What do you think the top energy issue is and why?

My post in an online discussion forum for my Energy Policy and Politics class:

Hi all, here to share my most recent thoughts on energy issues. I think there are many substantive issues which can be ranked as “top”. Recently, though, I’ve been preoccupied with questions of a more procedural nature – How are energy policies made, how might a society’s stance on energy be changed over time?

In this regard, the top energy issue for me has got to do with information and how it’s processed and communicated. It appears to me that we lack information where we need it most, and we lack the ability to turn pieces of knowledge into relatable, believable narratives for both decision-makers and the general public. We need local, legitimised knowledge and we need to humanise the discussion of such knowledge.

Such a diagram might be helpful:

Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Insight -> Wisdom (Illustration supposedly by David Somerville, based on the original by Hugh McLeod)

Data -> Information -> Knowledge

In another class on air and water pollution, we discussed the limitations of research when it comes to the health impacts of high concentrations of PM2.5 (100-200micrograms per cubic metre). Most research thus far has been carried out in societies with far lower concentrations (think 30-50micrograms per cubic metre).

There is a dearth of literature where it’s needed most – poorer countries, which are often hardest hit by carbon-generating activities. And extrapolation can be less convincing. To build up infrastructure for data-gathering, capacity for applying appropriate techniques to turn data into information and then knowledge takes a lot of effort and time. Without primary data for the parameters that we need and legitimised* knowledge on the health impacts of our carbon-generating and polluting activities, it is difficult to gain a footing** in a conversation on longer-term energy policy.

[*Legitimised, such that it isn’t construed as foreign countries or interest groups attempting to stifle a country’s economic growth. **Gaining a footing through information isn’t being influential, it’s simply one way of joining the political process of decision-making.]

Often, I fall into the trap of believing in the self-evidency of particular trends and research findings. But to transit from information to knowledge, we have to connect the dots (see diagram above), and connecting the dots is a process of creativity, high variance and subjectivity; it isn’t simply filtering data and information.

Larger paradigms (“It’s our turn to pollute the Earth, our turn to be powerful.” / “We are doomed in the long run anyway.”) and myths (“Humans are wise and special beings.” / “It’s our duty to steward this world.”) in a society play a big role in the production of knowledge.

And if we identify these paradigms and myths, we might just be able to bolster or chip away some of them, depending on which normative stances we hold regarding energy. Whichever the case, I think a more conscious understanding of these underlying forces is necessary in energy policymaking.

Knowledge -> Collective Insight & Wisdom

At this point, I think I’ve clearly abused the purpose of a forum >.< This last bit will be succinct. The knowledge of the individual researcher or policymaker might be important, but I think the collective insight and wisdom of the crowd is what moves things.

As consumers, we might be able to vote with our consumption choices. As citizens, we might be able to spur discourse in gradual, agglomerative ways. To translate knowledge to collective insight and wisdom would require much more than facts, we have to humanise facts and make it relatable enough for perspective- and consensus-building.

I’m beginning to read up on Causal Layered Analysis, I hope you find it useful, especially if you are thinking about the Knowledge -> Collective Insight & Wisdom bit. We could discuss in person!


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