economics innovation oil politics social-ecological transformation

Transforming industrial society

Staffan Laestadius

If you take climate change seriously, you also have to discuss how to transform society, not just industry but also
transforming life in society so that it will keep providing welfare.

Staffan Laestadius is Professor of Industrial Dynamics. He says his work starts where Climate Change research finishes. He tells us how industrial and societal transformation are inextricably linked. He also tells us that such transformation is possible – a path to emission reduction without miracles.

Talking points

Silent Spring, for me, and many of my generation…that was the first step into sustainability.

Limits to Growth…widely discussed, heavily criticised not least by economists, but also by people who thought this book was something that was telling the the rest of the world now the northern part of the world have got their lifestyle, there is no time, no space for the others to catch up. I think that was the wrong conclusion – I think the Limits to Growth book got too bad a reputation, but many of the forecasts have turned out to be relatively true now.

Industrial transformation…how analyse and understand processes of industrial change.

It isn’t enough to put new fuels in old cars.

The energy transformation required is huge…the elephant in the room, so huge, dramatic and challenging we don’t want to talk about it

We don’t want to talk about what do we have to do to take climate change seriously..but I try to do that.

I try to show it is possible to change

Industrial processes and social change

In Northern Europe we have developed a welfare state, a process modality, people believe that they have got all their welfare, their technology, their cars, and you will not convince people to leave all that to leave all that to go into a stone age economy just to preserve the climate.

You have to show that instead of man as master of nature…to a more circular system that provides a similar or comparable standard of living..that it is the challenge.

Show it is possible without decline in welfare….welfare based on a new sustainability based industrial system

The standard reaction…new technological solutions but from old thinking, linear thinking.

We could have fixed it with these old solutions 50 years ago, but now those solutions are not there any more, we have to be more humble and look to more sustainable solutions.

Now it needs a new way of thinking

There are limits to what we can do

Accepting the planetary boundaries work, my contribution is “What are the consequences for industrial and social transformation?”.

You can’t get people to accept transformation promising that everything will be worse – whether you continue on the same path or accept a sustainable path – so you must find a path of achieving transformation that can provide welfare for society – that is sustainable.

It is easy to fall back to “we’re too small, nothing I do matters”…but a message is the snowball effect – somebody has to go ahead.

We have to show that is possible to transform, increase competitiveness and welfare

To show it is possible we have to break down the enormous task…4 dimensions. 1 half of reductions…2. you should reduce activity levels first, then efficiency…3. it is possible to start, you don’t have to do everything now…4. 4% per year as long as we have growth, intensity is of no interest to nature…so absolute reductions.

We should focus first on doing less of carbon intensive processes

It is possible, but it is tough, because time is running out.

Reduce activity, increase efficiency, then substitution. This is the logical order, but of course they can be worked on together.

This is not a technology revolution…technology is there already…

For the coming years – at least until 2030 we have the technology, it is a political problem to calibrate the system so it becomes politically and socially attractive to join the solution.

Fossil fuels have been so successful, so cheap because externalities ignored

The basic training of economists, externalities so small we don’t have to worry about them. But now we see the basic problem is externalities.

We need to leave 2/3rd of fossil fuel in the ground

Sometimes when I go to sleep I think this is too tough but I think it is worth fighting for

We need to find a pricing model that makes it rational to transform

We need to transform the economy but also to keep the welfare model

(Will the transformation come anyhow?) Stakeholders in old regime…people know more, we have to get politicians to coordinate.
Political leadership is not just doing what they believe the electorate wants, they have to lead in the right direction…climate change a real challenge to traditional left wing/right wing…..we have to find political alliances

(a gentle revolution?) I think this may be necessary in a few years as the climate situation gets worse.

(New book Triple Challenges for Europe) Triple challenges…climate change, economic development, governance.

End austerity politics with investment in green solutions

(Success) not sucess or failure…returning to the synthesis of sustainability in my personal view and work… integrating industrial and social change…a coherent view

Instead of narrowing focus on details of technical transformation, widening scope go more into debate and how to get impact and work with transformation

(Activist) The third task for academics – societal influence – mine is impact on transforming our industrial society. Not an activist. Was when young, but basically I’m an academic.

I wouldn’t say that I’m an activist, but I would say I’m not scared to take a position that is solidly based.

If you take climate change seriously, then you have to work with a transformation…this is the magnitude of the challenge
(Motivation) – I still think I have a lot to do

I have a broader interest…too many things…I work with social, industrial and technology…it keeps me engaged in the debate

(Challenges) Swedish government could agree on transformation of our carbon dependence, way to achieve 4% per annum, and show the world that it is possible.

It will get worse before it gets better.

Maybe we have to face some more disasters and then we can mobilise a transformation

I think it is possible for all of us on an individual level to make the first half…it is possible…the rest will be dificult

I have reduced my car travel to less than half without any problem at all.

I have to do more, and we all have to do more in future, but it is possible to reduce by half with no suffering.

energy engineering oil politics

Fracking good science

Richard Davies

Fracking…hydraulic fracturing… but the term now encompasses the whole debate about the use of fossil fuels in the modern world.

Professor Richard Davies on how fracking has been such a game changer for the petroleum industry, what are its costs and benefits, and why it has become such a flashpoint for sustainability.

Professor Davies took up the post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Engagement & Internationalisation) at Newcastle University. He is a petroleum geologist, with a particular focus on hydraulic fracturing used to exploit shale gas and oil. Richard is an advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas. He tells us that he is agnostic about the issue of shale gas and oil exploitation but very outspoken about his commitment to expanding the evidence base in the European fracking debate. He is Project Lead of ReFINE.

We ask Prof Davies if fracking is inherently damaging – either in its own right or for its implications for climate change, and why it has become a poster child for unsustainability. But first, we ask him about his own voyage of discovery, and what led him to train as a petroleum geologist.

Talking points

My job in the petroleum industry was where to put the next well…but I found I was more interested in fundamental questions about geoscience

Fracking is an example of how technology has improved and allowed us to access oil and gas that no one thought we could get

The reason we stop getting oil and gas will because it is so damaging or because it becomes so expensive to get hold of it that no one would pay for it.

It may be that oil becomes a precious substance – no one would dream of burning it – that would be crazy…it would just be used for a select group of products or processes for which there is no alternative.

Technology may unlock more oil reserves in the future, but the key question is do we really need to burn it? Perhaps we shouldn’t be burning it and using it for something else.

Peak oil was turned upside down by fracking

Oil and gas companies are answerable to shareholders, and their shareholders are you and I.

A cup of oil contains a huge amount of energy, and it is difficult to replicate that and produce the same amount of profit from renewable energy…so unfortunately it’s an unequal battle

(Comparison of coal to renewable energy) I don’t believe a Russian man…in Russia mining some coal, putting it on a train to a boat, the boat coming to the UK, putting the coal on another train, to a power station, and thus burning it and then capturing the C02 at that point – because we haven’t captured all the C02 along the way

In a cradle to grave carbon footprint, that coal has come a long way…

Energy storage is so important for renewables

If we put the R&D spend in the oil and gas industry into other things such as energy storage…wow.

Fracking…hydraulic fracturing… but the term now encompasses the whole debate about the use of fossil fuels in the modern world.

The whole fracking process has a lot more intensity to it than drilling a normal well because of the need for fracking fluid, and the chemicals required, and the disposal of that

We come from an agnostic, neutral perspective – we’re not for or against fracking – and therefore we’re unpopular with both sides of the debate…we’ve positioned ourselves just right, we’re neutral, we’re academics.

The long term impact will be in looking after the bore holes…in 50 years time.

Every extractive industry has downsides…this isn’t rocket science, we need to understand the risks and manage them

This is a fossil fuel, that won’t do climate change any good. You can reduce it…but we haven’t got a replacement right now

Some of the reasons people don’t like fracking is because it is an extractive industry, it won’t help climate change and there is a level of risk

There’s a huge debate about renewables versus fossil fuels and fracking is right in the centre of that debate.

There’s the technical stuff and the social stuff, the two are very linked and it ain’t all about the science

We have a handle on the science…but not enough…lots of good questions we don’t have the answers to

In a way, industry has made this all happen, but the questions haven’t been solved at the same rate the industry has been deployed.

The questions have reached a bit of a crescendo, coming from all quarters, we have a handle on it, but we don’t know everything.

I’ve learned a lot in the last four years…firstly admitting we don’t have all the answers, listening to people, I’ve never thought “that’s not a good question”. Of course its a good question, I’ve huge respect for people who get involved and ask questions. That’s forced us scientists to look at things, it’s forced industry to look as well, and I don’t think industry knew the answers to some of the questions members of the public were asking.

Companies have got better at taking the public questions seriously, to research them and to provide good answers.

We’re often training someone to be highly specialised, but we also need more cross disciplinary people who can see energy from across the spectrum

We need a new breed of technical people who can see the world in a slightly different way.

We need people to be open and frank and aware of more than their own little postage stamp piece of the puzzle.

(Superpower) Think of the long term, not just the next five years.

(Success) changing the law in the UK so companies not allowed to frack with 1km or the surface, therefore protecting people’s water supplies.

(Activist) No. For me that is a personal question, personally about me living on my farm with solar panels, my two kids and my wife. I’m a scientist I come in to do this as neutral person. I don’t want to mix my personal views – my personal setting, my personal history, my background, with the science that I do – I thinks that’s an incorrect mixture

(Motivation) Discovery

(Challenge) Make the project more international, we’ve been a bit Europe-centric…continue the job we’ve done successfully but on an international stage

(Miracle) Long term independent funding, we’ve fought hard to be independent,

(Advice) Keep asking good questions.

Keeping the light shone on the fossil fuel industry will make for a better world.

This was conversation was recorded at Newcastle University in September 2015. The Framing Fracking paper mentioned is here.

climate change oil politics peace science

Encouraging scientists to think differently

Stuart Parkinson

We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

Dr Stuart Parkinson is Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Talking points

Our aim is to promote science, design and technology in contributing to peace, social justice and sustainability

Encourage scientists and engineers to think differently

To think differently about their role in society, prioritising environmental issues and social justice rather than a narrow economic focus

The challenge is an agenda of security through an arms industry – we argue for science and technology not based on yet another generation of highly destructive technologies

We want to promote dialogue amongst scientists and engineers, particularly in areas where they don’t want to talk about things

There’s an acceptance of the arms industry – “it keeps us safe” – we want to question that.

We try and fill gaps, ask the awkward questions.

Not just responding to problems with a technofix – another technology.

Part of the concern is that technology is often grabbed as a simple answer and it turns out not to be – it might deal with one problem but create another.

Trying to get around the techofix mentality

The term activist is so often used as a pejorative. If it’s about about questions, proposing different solutions to mainstream, challenging systems and offering something constructive, then it’s an activist organisation.

Working in the arms industry made me ask awkward questions, ones I hadn’t faced before – severely questioning what I was doing.

One of the challenges of the environment is ‘oh we don’t need to worry about that because it is too uncertain’ but on the other hand, we’re willing to believe economists, where the uncertainties are orders of magnitude bigger than the environmental ones.

We’re willing to take at face value economic models…despite being hugely unreliable and based on so many assumptions you can make them prove whatever you want according to your political viewpoint.

We’ve developed an economic system that’s not very stable (or fair or sustainable) so takes a lot of tuning – our news has become fixated on this.

(why sticking to growth narrative) because we haven’t come up with an alternative economic model that works in the way we’ve become used to.

SGR has ethical principles rather than specific polices on every subject. We encourage debate and discussion to apply principles.

(On demilitarisation) moving towards a society that solves its conflicts through dialogue and building trust and diplomacy rather than trying to build new generations of weapons

We need a to follow cautionary principle, rather than doing things just because we can

Some scientists can create a new technology, and other scientists can ask awkward questions about that technology – like what’s the impact, social implications and will it improve quality of life.

We’re being driven along by an economic imperative, not considering broader pros and cons.

We’re breaching environmental limits, some clearly, others either we don’t know or we will breach them in few decades – and that’s really scary.

We need to change norms of international behaviour that says nuclear weapons are unacceptable for anybody to have.

Challenge the assumption that there is a technofix. Technology is just one group of approaches, we need scientists and engineers to know that there are other groups of approaches

Codes of ethics (in professional bodies) are very narrow. Our organisation’s name is Global Responsibility – derived from social responsibility, corporate, environmental responsibility.

Ethics so often in professional institutions is interpreted very narrowly – professional ethics of do you job well, don’t lie, don’t plagiarise, don’t make something that’s going to blow up as soon as you’ve sold it. We think that’s far too narrow, you’ve got to think about your role in society, your place in society as an engineer, as your company, as your profession – and think are we doing the right thing?

Activist: Yes. For same reasons the organisation can be considered activist

Making things unacceptable is a very powerful idea. At the moment nuclear weapons aren’t something to be ashamed of for a lot of countries – chemical weapons are, biological weapons are – that shame that comes with breaching international law that’s built up over a couple of hundred years – its more powerful than people realise.

(What do we need to do to preload students with awkward questions?) We want to inspire students with science, give them at least sight and experience of something else.

The science and technology that is presented as exciting, especially for boys, is things like explosions, fighter planes and warships…we’re trying to present an alternative to that, still desirable, kind of nicer, this is what society is about, helping each other and using technologies that help us to help each other. And this is how is how you can live a good life – not being dazzled by the flashing lights and loud noises of the problematic technologies.

Being affected enough to make a different choice in their lives.

This conversation was recorded in the Common House at Lancaster Cohousing (see earlier conversation with Cathy and Alison).

climate change oil politics

The rise of the hyphenated activist

Anadarko's drill ship the Noble Bob Douglas drilling off the Otago Coast.  Credit: Damian Newell aboard the Oil Free Otago flotilla.

Dr Patricia Widener hails from the Sociology Department of Florida Atlantic University. She studies the effect of the oil industry on communities.

Talking points

I study the conflict and contamination as communities respond to the oil industry.

Even the threat of an oil industry can damage a sense of place

For many places the oil industry is not something people have considered

New communities are being forced to assess what oil means to them. In a way oil has been invisible to us, its always been available to us, it’s such a part of our lives we don’t critically think of all of the meanings petroleum until these new projects are announced.

Oil splits communities.

If people are afraid to take a strong position, that’s a problem, that’s an environment that is not conducive to everyone discussing it, debating it forming their own opinions about it.

If they are not shy about holding a position, but afraid that they’ll be rejected, a stigma for that position. In a democracy shouldn’t be happening, in a democracy, everyone should be comfortable talking about their position, how they got to that position and why they feel strongly about it.

People can be criticised for taking a position against a project – but that’s democracy.

Small businesses in business associations

Communities are not able to assess projects on a equal playing field, they only have tidbits of information.

We say we are aware of climate change and we are addressing it, and yet we are increasing fossil fuel production. To a community that makes no sense. It is confusing for community members who need to make decisions on specific projects that potentially will produce greenhouse gases.

National responses are very mixed, but a community itself has to make a decision on an actual project. It’s not an abstract conversation, it’s a specific project – or potential project that’s coming in.

Both signals are happening. Yes we’re dealing with climate change, yes we’re increasing fossil fuels production and use. Both of these are happening at the same time. People, agencies, governments are saying both without connecting what that actually means.

I’m concerned about the focus on individual energy use, while at the same time giving industry a pass.

Until there are locally alternatives to driving the car – we’re mobile people – we do need to transition, and it’s not happening.

It is a diversion and it is easy to focus on and target the individual, and blame the individual for the problem. And this serves industry to target the individual.

It serves as a diversion to get the eyes, the gaze, the critical thinking away from industry and onto households and individuals.

We still need to drive less, the developed wealthy world, we live beyond our means, beyond the world’s means.

Oil is pleasing, it is so close to our lifestyles, the pleasurable parts of our lifestyles, but we need to be thinking about what it means when other areas or other communities are negatively impacted.

It is really difficult for us to think about how what is pleasing to us may cause someone else’s suffering. We don’t want to dwell on that so we give industry a pass.

We see oil wealth and hope that it is going to solve problems, but it can lead to inequality – it doesn’t mean it is going to reduce poverty and inequality.

Rather than individuals’ choices, the focus has to be on the political economy of oil – to make changes there.

Democracies need spaces.

(On potential for oil jobs in countries of abject poverty) It’s really hard for someone who has a job and isn’t experiencing dire poverty to criticise someone for wanting a (oil) job someone needing a job for themselves and their family, but could there not be developments for other jobs? Ones that are do contribute to the community, that do build livelihood, economic security and sustainability. A concern is when it (an oil job) becomes the only option, and there are no other options for the community – and they are risky jobs.

We need to make connections. The extraction, production, consumption and disposal – that’s the flow of the product, and along the entirety of a product’s life are inequalities, injustices and risks. If we think of ourselves as part of a global society – and we’d like to think we do, then we’re obligated to think of the harms associated with our products.

We can also see a flow of activism or resistance along the flow of petroleum.

We need to disengage from the industry that is causing harm. But we’re in a protracted age of oil, we have a fossil fuel addition. So despite climate change awareness, despite increasing knowledge of harms…we haven’t stopped or slowed down.

The political economy of oil is so entrenched, communities would struggle to resist it.

Industry is working on extraction to depletion.

Ask decision makers: what are you doing about climate change, how is increasing fossil fuel production an answer? I’m not hearing anyone answering this. It is staggering that projects are getting the green light without that question being answered.

What does it mean when we are producing something with global (negative) impacts, are you comfortable with that? And increasingly people are not comfortable with that.

(Am I an activist?). Yes, I’m a sociologist-activist.

We’re seeing the rise of the hyphenated activist…the professor-activist, the lawyer-activist, the farmer-activist, the grandparent-activist, the student-activist. A lot of people are doing both, and they’re doing both because these problems are coming closer to where they live, work, study and play. At that point, when you take a position on something, you have a multiple presence – you are what you are and you’re an activist, or advocate. Not against, but advocating for. For communities, for environment, advocates for – not against.

Be informed, to increase awareness about environment and community, take a position on that, and be heard with regards that position. Democracies rely on that.

Photo: Anadarko’s drill ship the Noble Bob Douglas drilling off the Otago Coast. Credit: Oil Free Otago flotilla.