Beyond Technology: Strengthening Energy Policy through Social Science


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The Alternative Energy Future

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ project on the Alternative Energy Future is examining the legal, social, and economic implications and challenges of transitioning to a greater reliance on cleaner energy technologies. Changing the existing technological infrastructure will require modifications to legal, social, and economic structures as well. However, many of the societal considerations underlying these necessary changes have not been adequately addressed.

To assess how the social sciences could help address these considerations and inform energy policies and decisions, the Academy convened a diverse group of experts from industry, government, and academia at a workshop in Washington, D.C., on May 19–20, 2011. We are indebted to the workshop participants, who enthusiastically embraced the task at hand to identify many priorities for future social science research and for new collaborations between social scientists and policy makers.

A diverse expert steering group oversaw the design of the workshop and worked diligently to distill the participants’ suggestions into the strategies and recommendations presented in this report. This steering group included Steve Ansolabehere, Doug Arent, Ann Carlson, Tom Dietz, Kelly Sims Gallagher, Granger Morgan, Maxine Savitz, Paul Stern, Jim Sweeney, and Mike Vandenbergh. Special thanks go to John Randell, Hellman Fellow and Program Associate for Science Policy at the Academy, who organized the workshop and, with the assistance of the Academy’s editorial team, coordinated the drafting and production of this report.

The workshop was funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and we are deeply grateful for the support and guidance of Steve Koonin, Cora Marrett, and Myron Gutmann. We would also like to thank Holmes Hummel, Cynthia Lin, and Linda Blevins at DOE and Rita Teutonico at NSF for their many helpful suggestions. It is our hope that this report will encourage new dialogue between these agencies and others on how to strengthen our energy system through the application of knowledge from the social and behavioral sciences.

We also acknowledge support for the Alternative Energy Future project from two anonymous foundations and from contributors to the American Academy Intellectual Venture Fund, including The Fremont Group, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Novartis.

The Academy’s Alternative Energy Future committee will continue to work with government agencies, industry leaders, and nongovernmental organizations to promote multidisciplinary research on energy production and use. A greater appreciation for the contributions and value of the social sciences will be critical for maximizing the return on our nation’s investments in new technologies and for securing our energy future.

Robert W. Fri, Workshop Chair
Visiting Scholar
Resources for the Future

Leslie C. Berlowitz
President and William T. Golden Chair
American Academy of Arts and Sciences