Ethics in Danish Energy Policy
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Ethics in Danish Energy Policy

Finn Arler, Mogens Rüdiger, Karl Sperling, Kristian Høyer Toft, Bo Poulsen, Finn Arler, Mogens Rüdiger, Karl Sperling, Kristian Høyer Toft, Bo Poulsen

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eBook - ePub

Ethics in Danish Energy Policy

Finn Arler, Mogens Rüdiger, Karl Sperling, Kristian Høyer Toft, Bo Poulsen, Finn Arler, Mogens Rüdiger, Karl Sperling, Kristian Høyer Toft, Bo Poulsen

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About This Book

This book deepens our understanding of ethical drivers in energy policy and contributes to future decision-making on transitions towards a sustainable energy system.

During the latest fifty years Western energy politics have been faced with a series of ethical challenges including rapid growth, oil crises, security of supply, nuclear power and climate change. Combining philosophical, historical and planning approaches into one narrative, these dilemmas are explored using Denmark as the key case study. Drawing on contributions from several experts in the field, the ethics of energy is investigated from multiple perspectives at the individual, corporate, local and national levels, focusing on concrete decisions where different ethical considerations are weighted against each other. This comprehensive approach helps to gain a deeper understanding of the energy sector's history and gives important input to its future layout.

Drawing comparisons with European and global examples, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars of energy politics and policy, environmental ethics, climate change and sustainability transitions.

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1 Studying energy and ethics

Finn Arler
This is a study of half a century of energy policy and planning, but it is also a study of ethics in practice. The aspiration is to tell the story of the last 50 years of energy policy and planning, with a particular focus on ethical considerations and arguments, conflicts and dilemmas that have had a determining role in this development. A basic assumption is that ethical concerns and considerations have played a significant part in the development and that this has not been emphasized as much as it deserves, partly due to a too-narrow understanding of ethics. It is worth underlining, though, that the actors need not refer to ethical theory in their ethical concerns and deliberations. Often, they do not even refer to their considerations as ethical.

Aim of the book:

  • To reinterpret 50 years of energy planning and policy with a particular focus on ethical considerations and justifications on six societal levels
  • To rethink ethical obligations in complex situations with a particular focus on balancing ethical concerns and commitments on the different levels
  • To map the ethical landscape of energy planning and policy with a particular focus on conflicting ethical concerns and considerations on the different levels
The project, on which the book is based, has aimed to combine historical research with ethical investigations and planning considerations in a fruitful dialogue. On the one hand, historical investigations can reveal how ethical considerations occur in historical processes and make it possible to highlight dilemmas and conflicts. On the other hand, ethical theory can guide the analysis of concerns, considerations, and arguments: their character, relevance, weight, and validity. Ethical analysis can thus influence historical investigations – increase attentiveness to the relevance, coherence, and validity of ethical concerns – whereas historical investigations help ethical analysis to be more attentive to the effect of historical circumstances.

Six societal levels

The project has considered ethics in practice on six levels related to energy policy and planning. The six levels are not thematized simultaneously or with equal weight in all chapters; each level is typically highlighted in periods where actions on that level are of key importance.
The first of the six levels is the individual level, where persons act as consumers, as citizens, and sometimes as entrepreneurs. In some periods, the large majority of consumers use energy without much thought, apart from finding cheap suppliers (see Chapters 3 and 4). In other periods, a significant part of consumers may consciously act responsibly beyond immediate concerns. Individuals also act as citizens, as voters, as writers, and as debaters – either independently or as members of research organizations (see Chapter 7) – or as active members of one of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have been quite influential in the Danish energy debate (see Chapters 4 and 7). Finally, individuals can act as entrepreneurs who develop – or financially support – new technologies or organizations in line with their ethical-political engagement (see Chapter 6).
This brings us to the second level – the company level with a broad variety of organizations from single-owner companies, like the early wind turbine developers, to cooperatives, like biogas companies or wind turbine associations, to power utilities and large-scale international companies like fossil fuel companies, refrigerator producers, or modern wind turbine manufacturers (Chapter 6). Obviously, the broadness of the spectrum of private or publicly owned companies makes it difficult to make general statements about the companies’ behaviour, but, as various types of companies have played significant roles in the development of the energy sector, it is worth keeping their contributions in mind (see Chapter 11).
The third level is that of local governments, which, in some periods, mainly have had a secluded role as administrators or owner of utilities but, in other periods, have chosen a more active role as planners with a mission to promote sustainability and climate policy. Again, the spectrum is bound to be broad, from proactive to reactive. It is remarkable, though, that, in recent years, a significant number of municipalities have taken on the responsibility of contributing to reducing the emissions of climate gases within their jurisdictions (see Chapter 10).
Fourthly, actors on the national level – principally governments and parliamentary majorities – have played major roles throughout the 50-year period. This is reflected in this study, where national deliberations, plans, and decisions are addressed carefully. The focus in this study differs from that of many studies in law and political science where regulatory subtleties or power struggles are the main issues. Our main interest rests with concerns, arguments, and justifications that are read from a broad perspective. There have been, and still are, a lot of power struggles, of course, but it is remarkable how frontiers have moved over time and old strongholds have lost significance.
Beyond the national level is the regional level, which, in this case, is primarily the European Community (EC)/European Union (EU) level but also includes common initiatives among the Nordic countries. The importance of this level has changed very much over time. Before the 1990s, the EC/EU had very little influence on energy policy and planning in Denmark. This changed significantly during the 1990s, however, partly due to its common policy towards climate change (see Chapters 8 and 9) and partly due to the liberalization demands codified in three EU directives, the first of which was passed in 1997 (see Chapter 10).
The sixth and final level is the global level. This level includes organizations (mainly related to the UN), global laws, and agreements, as well as major global summits like the Stockholm and Rio Conferences or the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (see Chapters 4, 9, and 10). Organizations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and World Trade Organization (WTO) also belong on this level but do not include all nations. Major influences from the global market and actions by countries outside the European region, such as the oil-producing countries (OPEC) (see Chapter 4), China, or the United States (see Chapters 8 and 9), also belong here. Influences from the global level have had key impacts on the development of Danish policy and planning, although the influences have varied over time; these variations are reflected in this study.
The six levels are interdependent and mutually influence each other but are never fully in synchrony. New initiatives may occur on all levels, and low-level initiatives can radically change policies and priorities on higher levels. This kind of complexity will continue to be important, and a careful mapping is helpful not only for understanding past events but also in order to tackle future challenges.

Investigating ethics

There are traditionally three ways for researchers to deal with ethical issues. A basic approach is to confront substantial questions and to try to answer them coherently. One may ask, for instance, how states, nations, or political communities in general should tackle ethical questions related to climate change or nuclear energy and what implications this should have on energy policy. These kinds of problems can be considered in a general way without reference to specific circumstances, or they can be dealt with in a more detailed way where circumstantial evidence is included.
This kind of approach has often been dismissed as unscientific in traditional theories of science recommending ethical neutrality and value freedom in order to distance science from politics (e.g. Weber 1917/1993, 1919/1993). This recommendation is based on a number of highly controversial assumptions, though – mainly an unfounded belief that ethics are based on arational (or irrational) feelings rather than on deliberative arguments. We shall return to this in Chapter 2. For now, it suffices to underline that the distinction between researchers and politicians does not rely on a speculative contrast between rationality and value freedom, on the one hand, and arational value-based acts of will, on the other. The main contrast is rather that, unlike politicians, researchers are not permanently forced to make decisions and publicly defend their chosen positions (Habermas 1981) but are allowed – or even expected – to focus on dilemmas and grey areas where difficult political decisions have to be made, even if there are strong arguments on both sides.
A second way of doing ethical research is common among philosophers. In this approach, researchers typically discuss, construct, and reconstruct general ethical theories on the basis of experiences from substantial discussions. One may ask, for instance, why a specific answer to a complicated question is convincing and what implications this may have for the general theories that we commonly find credible. On the other hand, one may also cast doubt on apparently convincing answers if they do not comply with theories that have survived serious testing in relation to many other issues. The American philosopher John Rawls has called this kind of research a deliberative search for “reflective equilibrium” (Rawls 1972), a state of balance or coherence among recognized values, accepted general principles, and a variety of approved judgements in specific situations.
In this kind of research, differences between specific theories, traditions, and theorists are often highlighted. Like all other researchers, ethicists tend to be divided in groups depending on which theories or traditions they find convincing. Even though philosophy, to a large extent, is about reflecting and re-reflecting, it is no less difficult for philosophers than for other researchers to leave a convincing theoretical framework. They are likely to reinterpret new convincing arguments, fitting them in by refining their favourite framework. Even though the ultimate purpose of ethics is practice, the development of consistent and coherent theories is, in many cases, just as important a goal for researchers as solving substantial issues. The assumption is that consistent and coherent theories are useful in dealing with substantial issues.
In this study, we have tried to focus mainly on concerns, considerations, and justifications related to specific issues rather than on individual theorists, general theories, or “schools”. Very often, interesting conflicts cannot be seen as conflicts between competing general theories but rather as conflicts between concerns and considerations that are recognized by several theories – and the actors themselves only seldom refer to ethical theories. Still, in some cases, it is fruitful to refer to theorists or general theories in order to understand both concerns and arguments. Some considerations may even be difficult to understand without reference to general theories and historical origins. Coherent and comprehensive theories can be useful analytical frameworks or tool-boxes. Chapter 2 presents a selection of theoretical positions that we have found useful as analytical tools in order to understand concerns and decisions.
In general, one should be careful not to exaggerate differences between general theories in relation to ethical decision-making in practice. There is seldom a smoothly paved trail leading from general theories to particular decision-making. Theorists who agree about general theories may disagree on specific issues, just as theorists who disagree about the general theories may end up with comparable conclusions about particular subjects. In complex issues like energy policy, there are lots of intermediate dilemmas and hard cases between general theories and particular decisions. As Aristotle once put it: disagreement in ethics is seldom about general values, on which we all agree, but rather on what to do in specific situations where a variety of respectable values and commitments are at stake (Aristotle 1990).
A third way of doing research – one which is more typical for historians, sociologists and anthropologists – is to do empirical studies of how different groups of people deal with ethical issues. In this case, researchers often try to avoid taking stances and are more interested in categorizing positions or in producing a coherent narrative. They are primarily concerned with what the investigated groups of people think about an issue and which kinds of considerations they rely on and often less concerned with the validity of the arguments used.
Historical investigators can never fully avoid evaluating the validity of arguments, though. If this were the case, it would not be possible to separate arguments from meaningless utterances, and investigators would never be able to know whether a statement is a cry for help, a bad excuse, or a consistent argument. Historians need not end up with clear-cut conclusions – rather, they should be cautious about trying to do that – but they will never understand what the actors being studied do or claim if they are incapable of separating good from bad arguments.
Moreover, as emphasized in Hans Georg Gadamer’s theory of hermeneutics, historians are never merely neutral observers of history, like flies on the wall. They change history by the very act of reinterpreting its course and by re-presenting otherwise-forgotten historical objects, events, and arguments. Historical researchers prolong the reception and impact history (Wirkungsgeschichte) of events, substantial arguments, and theories by publishing new narratives and interpretations (Gadamer 1960). This is a critical task; storytelling demands care and responsibility because interpretations of historical sequences and presentations of important arguments may have serious impacts on the further course of history.
This entails that presentations are made with becoming modesty, as arguments are rarely so simple and overriding that they point to just one single conclusion. This is, not least, true in conspicuous situations where many actors are involved and several strong but diverging arguments are present. To use another of John Rawls’ expressions, the scientists’ faculty for judgement can easily be as overburdened as that of the actors in such complex situations (Rawls 1972), and it would, therefore, be advantageous to be as transparent as possible in the use of arguments and appropriately cautious when translating arguments into conclu...

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