Social Dimension of Energy Resources
RISIW has developed an excellent research capability around the social dimension of energy resources. We have been successful in securing some major research grants in this field including $680K from New South Wales DPI to study public perceptions of carbon capture and storage strategies.
Public debates about carbon emissions have been characterised by slow periods of consensus and concern but also by sudden peaks in attention and controversy. In recent decades, the public debate surrounding man-made climate change has evolved from climate scientists warnings about the greenhouse effect and the rise in media attention to this complex problem in the 1980s and 1990s to public distrust sparked by 'Climategate' in 2009. Corresponding to international focal points such as the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, Australian media attention to climate change peaked during the failed negotiations around the Emissions Trading Scheme (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) and lately the debate has taken yet another turn with carbon price discussions being shadowed by political posturing and framing in terms of the cost to the economy and market metaphors.
The resolution to the problem will involve arriving at a balance between a broad mixture of interrelated variables: technologies, economics, markets, lands, flora, fauna, contexts, communities, cultures, fact, unknowns and opinion. The viability of solutions in turn will depend upon how they connect sources and consequences of concern about climate change.
When values conflict and facts are contested, new ways of connecting science and society must be imagined. Mitigation technologies such as carbon capture and storage are a highly significant site for investigating ways to make these new connections through the dynamics of communication and the points of negotiation in the emergence and development of protest movements. Carbon capture and storage is also significant because it is part of the trajectories of socio-technical change and human responses to social change in the wake of complex systemic biophysical phenomenon such as climate change and global warming. However, while there is increasing technology policy and industry based interest in liaising with communities as part of creating a social license to operate, present research and approaches to consultation and stakeholder engagement are becoming limited in terms of providing any new specific insights into how best to go about CCS engagement activities.
Addressing this crucial gap, our research therefore recognises that there is more to engagement than procedural recipes or quick sampling via focus groups and argues that there is scope for a new way of understanding the relational interplays between science policy, civil society and industry. Recognising that technology is not developed in isolation of the social, this research proposes methodological techniques within the discipline of Sociology of Science and Technology studies, specifically, Actor-Network Theory (ANT) as well as ethnographic techniques and media/communication discourse analysis to investigate social site specific strategies prior to the implementation of a community engagement agenda for CGI. It is argued that this bigger picture, more holistic approach, has the potential to generate more sustainable social and technical outcomes for CGI.
Our research tracks and assess the social in relation to the unfolding of the technical. This means understanding how controversies have arisen at the intersection of social, geographical and technical factors. We combine close, contemporary historical analysis of controversy with an array of social scientific techniques that can assist policy makers in the long term deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies in a timely and economical manner.
For more information visit The Centre for Social Research in Energy and Resources (CSRER)