Utskrift från Malmö högskolas webbplats www.mah.se

Energy and justice: An ethical analysis of Swedish energy politics, based on the capability approach

Contact person: Anders Melin
Responsible: Anders Melin
Co-workers: Tulsa Jansson and David Kronlid - Uppsala universitet
Funding: Vetenskapsrådet
Timeframe: 2014-01-01 -- 2017-12-31
Faculty/Department: Global Political Studies, Faculty of Culture and Society
Subject: Tvärvetenskap
Webpage: http://blogg.mah.se/energy-justice

This project is a comprehensive attempt to analyse the complex moral choices involved in energy policy-making. Energy politics is a highly contested or "wicked" (Rittel & Webber, 1973) area involving multiple stakeholder conflicts and political paradoxes. Our current high consumption of energy is a presupposition for today's technological and economic systems, but it also has striking negative environmental effects both today and in the future. Nowadays the majority of scientists accept that the use of fossil fuels is a central cause of global warming. Although nuclear energy has recently been presented as a sustainable and safe energy source, the Fukushima accident has reinvigorated the debate about the risks connected with nuclear energy (for different views within the debate about nuclear energy, see, for example, Cohn, 1997; Eerkens, 2006). Accordingly, our choice of energy systems gives rise to ethical conflicts within present generations, i.e. between different social groups or groups living in different countries, between current and future individuals and between humans and other life forms.

  • The first kind of conflicts arises, for example, because the use of fossil fuels in some countries affects weather conditions in other parts of the world.
  • The second occurs because the emission of greenhouse gases today may have direct and indirect weather effects several centuries into the future; moreover, nuclear energy creates intergenerational ethical conflicts as nuclear waste will remain radioactive for at least 100,000 years.
  • The third kind of conflict arises because our current high consumption of fossil fuels will most likely lead to a significant rise in global mean temperature, which in turn will lead to the extinction of a very large percentage of all species of animals and plants (Fischlin, Midgley, Price, Leemans, Gopal, Turley, Rounsevell, Dube, Tarazona, Velichko, 2007).

This project examines Swedish energy politics as a case study to allow a more in-depth analysis of the ethical conflicts energy policy-making gives rise to and how they can be managed. Questions about the design of energy politics are highly contested in today's Swedish political debate. On the one hand, some parliamentarians argue in their bills that access to large amounts of cheap energy is needed since Sweden has a relatively high percentage of electricity-intensive industry (motion 2009/10:N228, 2011/12:N217). On the other hand, other parliamentarians claim in their bills that our high energy production has negative environmental consequences, even beyond Sweden's borders. In order to reduce these effects, our energy use should decrease (motion 2010/11:N261, 2012/13:N406).

The capability approach

The theoretical starting-point of the project will be the capability approach (CA) as developed by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen. This approach is a framework for the analysis, assessment and design of policies. It is used in both theoretical and empirical studies and has provided the theoretical foundation of the human development paradigm (Robeyns, 2005). It has become very influential, in both the philosophical (see, for example, Sen, 1985, 1999; Nussbaum, 2005a, 2006) and political debates concerning justice (see, for example, Human Development Report 2011).

Of particular importance is the following:

  • (a) the distinction between capabilities as a person's opportunity to achieve, and functionings as the achievement - constitutive of a person's being (Alkire 2002; Sen 1993; Alkire & Black 1997; Qizilbash 2005),
  • (b) the regard of capabilities and functionings as positive freedoms intrinsic to well-being, hence 
  • (c) the understanding that CA pays attention to the ends of well-being rather than its means (goods or resources), and finally 
  • (d) the understanding that material and immaterial artefacts involved in achieving certain functionings are imperative to wellbeing, but only in so far as a person also has access to personal, socio-cultural, institutional and 2 environmental factors to convert these resources into functionings (Otto & Ziegler 2006; Robeyns 2005). 

Purpose and aims

The overall goal of the project is to contribute to the debate on how the moral choices connected to energy politics in Sweden and other industrialized countries can be made in a more considered way.

The project has the following purposes:

  1. To identify a general set list of capabilities through a critical study of literature on CA
  2. To use this list as a frame work for analysing the explicit and implicit moral norms that exist within current Swedish energy politics regarding the well-being of present and future individuals, as well as potential ethical conflicts associated with such norms.
  3. To construct a list of particular capabilities which can serve as an ethical foundation for Swedish energy politics with the help of the results from the analysis of Swedish energy politics and a critical study of philosophical and theological environmental ethics. This involves developing CA by analysing whether, and if so how, concern for distant individuals (that is, individuals living in other parts of the world), future individuals and non-human species can be taken into account within CA. 
  4. To analyse what would be the practical consequences of the above mentioned list of capabilities for Swedish energy politics. 

The aim of the project is two-fold:

  • (a) to produce qualitative data regarding moral norms and ethical conflicts in Swedish energy politics, and
  • (b), on the bases of this data, to suggest a model for assessing and managing ethical conflicts in order to reach a coherent framework for ethical decision-making within energy politics in Sweden and other industrialized countries. The project will take into account the debate in both philosophical and theological ethics.

Beskrivning på svenska

Vilka moraliska val innehåller energipolitiken och hur beskrivs förhållandet mellan Sverige och andra länder, och mellan vår tid och framtida generationer, i energipolitiken?

Forskningsprojektets mål är att ta reda på hur de moraliska val som är kopplade till svensk energipolitik kan göras på ett mer medvetet sätt.

Utgår från förmågemodellen
Filosofen Martha Nussbaum och Amartya Sen, nationalekonom och filosof, har lanserat ”förmågemodellen”(the capability approach), för att utmana traditionella nationalekonomiska teorier. Istället för att samhällsutveckling mäts enbart i termer av BNP-tillväxt inkluderar den aspekter som innebär att människor ska ha möjlighet att utveckla mänskliga förmågor.

I modellen beskrivs tio olika förmågor som Nussbaum menar krävs för ett värdigt mänskligt liv, till exempel kroppslig hälsa, integritet och möjlighet till nära relationer till andra människor. Förmågemodellen har fått stort genomslag inom etik och utvecklingsteori. I forskningsprojektet ska forskarna identifiera vilka förmågor som påverkas när det gäller just svensk energipolitik. Läs mer i en artikel om projektet här.

Senast uppdaterad av Fredrik Svensson