ISSUE 54: Why the Energy Transition Will Fail Without Good Social Science

The existential threat posed by climate change is forcing us to think very differently about energy.  Technology advances have enabled an unprecedented shift to clean and renewable energy sources. Bold government programs have incentivized traditional energy companies to start a shift to applying these technologies along with carbon capture, utilization and storage. And investors are, albeit unevenly, starting to restrict capital to carbon intensive developments in favor of those that promote stated targets for carbon neutrality.

For all this progress, there remains an important missing link.  If the energy transition is to succeed, and be truly sustainable, we’ll need to deliver global benefits at three levels:

  • global carbon reduction and climate resilience advances,
  • regional air quality and public health benefits, and
  • preservation if not advancement of local host community well-being.

The technology and finance drivers are responding at the global and regional levels, but if we don’t deliver complementary benefits at the local level, especially for those communities of need that have born disproportionate impacts of the energy industry and climate risks, this transition will fall short of the transformational change toward our global sustainability needs.

In this podcast, our founder Dean Slocum makes this case, and describes why applying sound principles of social science is critical to the success of the energy transition.  Listen to the interview here.  The key take-aways?

  • The energy transition is critical to where we need to go – in terms of climate, in terms of biodiversity, and in terms of the quality of life on earth for all to thrive, not just those with relative wealth
  • But for that transition to work, it’s got to deliver benefits to the host communities that have been for decades bearing the burden of environmental and social impact from industrial activities
  • Key to delivering these benefits sustainably is applying solid social science to understand communities’ needs, collaboratively building sustainable and participatory solutions to meet these needs – and learning to treat societal risks like other business risks that can be systematically assessed, measured and managed.

Acorn International is a Houston-based team of professional social and socio-environmental scientists working actively on energy transition, environmental justice and human rights solutions for leading energy & mining industries, investors and governments throughout the US and worldwide. Contact us for more on why the energy transition will fail without good social science, and about how we can help you to make your transition a success.

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