The Alternative Energy Future
The American Academy is working to identify societal barriers to the widespread
adoption of new energy technologies and to assess how these barriers might be better
understood and managed. Much has been written about the technical benefits and costs
of transforming the energy system to reduce carbon emissions, but many of the societal
considerations underlying these necessary changes have not been adequately addressed.
There is a critical need to identify these factors and to assess how they might
be better understood and managed using tools developed by the social sciences. The
Alternative Energy Future project brings together scientists, engineers, economists,
political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, government officials, and business
leaders to inform governmental policy development and the research initiatives of
nongovernmental organizations, and to increase public awareness of the societal
risks and benefits of alternative energy technologies.
By creating new interdisciplinary collaborations between professional communities,
this project addresses six key issues that serve to connect the social sciences
with the needs of energy and climate policy-makers:
- What are the barriers to achieving social consensus on climate and energy policies,
and how can these barriers be overcome?
- How will the energy system transformation affect the decisions made by individuals
- How do regulations need to change to support new energy technologies?
- What governance framework will best sustain energy policies over the long run?
- How will America’s energy choices impact our relationship with other nations?
What will be the effect of changing the energy system on other physical systems,
including ecosystems, land use, and water supply?
The Academy convened a
workshop in Washington, D.C., on May 18-20, 2011, to assess the current
interplay between social science and energy policy and to investigate issues that
would benefit from further research. The workshop report reviews existing social science research,
identifies priority areas for future research, and makes recommendations for increasing
communication between social scientists and energy policy-makers. These findings
and recommendations will be disseminated through briefings with key target audiences
and the publication of articles in the scientific and popular media.
With a focus on pragmatic recommendations and rigorous assessments of the societal
risks and benefits of low-carbon energy technologies, the Academy study provides
constructive guidance to shape the public policies that will govern the large-scale
application of these technologies. It will meet the needs of policy-makers by developing
recommendations for a social science research agenda designed to fill major gaps
in the understanding of the economic, legal, and social implications of proposed
changes to the energy system.
Members of the study committee include Robert Fri, Resources for the Future
(Project Chair); Stephen Ansolabehere, Harvard University; Doug Arent,
National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Jan Beyea, Consulting in the Public
Interest; Stephen Brown, Resources for the Future; Ann Carlson, University
of California, Los Angeles; Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University; Kelly
Sims Gallagher, Tufts University; Michael Graetz, Columbia University;
William Hogan, Harvard University; Robert B. Jackson, Duke University;
Daniel Kammen, The World Bank; John List, University of Chicago; Granger
Morgan, Carnegie Mellon University; Daniel Nocera, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology; Richard L. Revesz, New York University School of
Law; Maxine Savitz, Honeywell, Inc. (ret.); William H. Schlesinger,
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies; Adele Simmons, Chicago Metropolis 2020;
John Steinbruner, University of Maryland; Paul Stern, National Research
Council; James Sweeney, Stanford University; Michael Vandenbergh,
Vanderbilt Law School; David Victor, University of California, San Diego;
and Leslie Berlowitz, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, ex officio.
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