As part of the European Union’s Sustainable Energy Week (#EUSEW14), Europe’s biggest event to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency, on 24th June SRN hosted a seminar entitled ‘Energy in Society: Material Footprints, Bioethics and Public Engagement’. The aim of this event was to present social science perspectives on energy and to explore key themes including social and ethical aspects of biofuels, public/community engagement with energy technologies, and the geopolitical implications of energy’s material footprints.
Our first guest speaker Dr Alison Mohr from the Institute for Science and Society in the School of Sociology and Social Policy talked about the necessary conditions to create the qualities for experimentation in dialogue to take place. Alison proposed a framework based on three key conditions: the capacity to embrace the unexpected, the diversity of perspectives and the responsiveness of researchers and policy decision-makers. This framework was applied to the context of two case-studies, the Energy 2050 Pathways public Dialogue and the BBSRC Bioenergy Distributed Dialogue. Drawing from the study of these two cases, Alison suggested that the publics involved in a dialogue may differ from those with whom the organisers believe they are engaging. Alison also stated that publics are always being formed and re-formed in response to certain conditions, and may be transformed through the process of engagement.
Orla Shorthall, our second guest speaker from the Centre for Applied Bioethics, focused on social and ethical issues raised by the use of agricultural biomass in energy. During her talk, Orla presented some empirical findings from her Doctoral research; a comparative study between the UK and Denmark looking at how emerging value conflicts, related to the burning of crops and straw for energy, are framed by key stakeholders.
The seminar was a great opportunity to gather undergraduate and postgraduate students, researchers, academics and also external participants from the Nottingham community, such as businesses, media, and other academic institutions. All parties contributed to a lively discussion around Energy Policy in the UK, the role and stake of the general public in those debates, and comparative perspectives on bioethical issues between the UK and other European Union countries.
SRN wishes to thank the University of Nottingham Graduate School whose generous support made this event possible.