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  • Introduction to the Symposium:Cultural Considerations in Alternative-Energy Transfer
  • John C. Pierce (bio) and Brent S. Steel (bio)

The growing world population, coupled with a rapidly increasing demand for energy, exerts great pressure on nature's limited resources (EIA, 2008). To satisfy this growing worldwide demand, governments have been relying heavily on fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—for electricity production (IEA, 2008, p. 24). At the same time, carbon-dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and industrial processes, which account for 98% of total carbondioxide emissions, have been accelerating rapidly (Raupach et al., 2007). Other environmental problems that can be linked directly to fossil-fuel consumption include ash waste disposal and mining runoff and oil spills, as well as the perhaps bigger challenges of air pollution, ocean pollution, and global climate change.

As these problems have become increasingly severe, many national and international policies and regimes have been developed to address them (Chasek, Downie, & Brown, 2006; Moan & Smith, 2007, p. 78). Moreover, to address the problems of environmental degradation and depletion of fossil fuels, and at the same time to be able to provide the expected quality of life for their citizens, countries around the world are intensifying the search for alternative fuels and renewable energies that are expected to be less damaging to the environment and human health. Renewable energies also have the advantage that they very often can be tailored to the geographic characteristics of the area where they are produced. Thus regions with regular sun exposure could invest in solar energy, windy areas could harvest the power of the wind, coastal areas could get their electricity supplied directly from the ocean, and biofuels could be developed in renewable crops.

To be sure, the renewable-energy sources themselves face significant obstacles, including, among others, cost, technological capacity, and political interests. The articles in this symposium address the cultural considerations in alternative-energy development—an influence not addressed as often as one might expect. [End Page 247]

Cultural Considerations

In this issue, we take a fairly broad view of "culture," following Daniel Elazar's description of culture as "the explicit and implicit or overt and covert patterns of shared beliefs, values, and traditions about life held by a particular people" (1994, p. 3). Our question here is whether there are certain shared patterns of beliefs and values held by individuals who either support or oppose the development of alternative-energy technologies. This question is stimulated by several considerations. First, in many ways, alternative-energy technologies can be seen as part of the "green revolution," wherein the goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of humans. Moreover, the frequently articulated goal of sustainability implies a capacity to substitute renewable-energy sources for those currently dependent on nonrenewable ones, such as coal. So we would expect there to be substantial support for alternative-energy technologies among individuals with environmental values, and with the more general political ideologies and values associated with them, and opposition to the technologies among those who do not. Such bundles of shared values and ideologies thus comprise a cultural consideration at play in the transfer of alternative-energy technologies.

At the same time, the movement to develop many alternative-energy technologies faces significant opposition from both those committed to development and hence seeing no need to employ renewable resources, as well as from many of those with strong environmentalist values. The development of green, renewable-energy sources is viewed by many as unnecessary, either in consideration of criticisms of the data about such phenomena as global warming, or about the implications of a rapidly diminishing carbon-based fuel supply. Perhaps more interesting and less expected is the occasional opposition from environmentalists, especially those with bio-centric (as opposed to anthropo-centric) orientations to the environment. These environmentalists may identify harmful side effects of some alternative renewable technologies, such as wind power, hydropower, and wave energy. Wind farms are viewed as a danger to birds, for example, hydropower as a cause of decline in anadromous fisheries, and wave-energy farms as potential impediments to migrating fish or whales or to bottom-dwelling species displaced through the installation of turbines on the ocean floor.



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pp. 247-250
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