Unpacking the black box of 'energy technology' : How abstraction and resource fungibility obscure ecologically unequal exchange
Summary, in English
Transitions to low-carbon energy technologies and other forms of climate mitigation tend to involve disempowerment and environmental injustices of various kinds. This paper argues that such tendencies are inherent in the social rationale of technological systems promoted by the logic of the world market. The production and operation of technological artifacts are imbued with economic rationality and must not be conceptualised as distinct from the organisation of society. This is illustrated by the energy transition that occurred during the Industrial Revolution, in which the underlying incentives of ecologically unequal exchange and environmental load displacements were transmuted into seemingly neutral concerns of economic rationality and technological progress. The distributive dimensions of markets and technologies become apparent as we now aspire to abandon the fossil energy regime, revealing how our concepts of ‘energy’ and ‘technology’ may obscure global processes of appropriation of human labour time and natural space. Such processes are as insidiously inscribed in low-carbon energy technologies as in the fossil-fueled technologies that they are intended to replace. To identify such pervasive injustices as inherent in technologies rather than contextual contingencies requires an acknowledgement of the social essence of technical artifacts. This in turn requires a deep transdisciplinarity that links physics, industrial ecology, the philosophy of technology, social theory, world trade, and the history of ideas. Current efforts to transcend the distinction between the social and the material pervasively fail to integrate social theory and physical resource theory. Rather than investigate the social and ecological repercussions of technological systems, the focus of energy justice research should be to discover the tacit, distributive functions that are inscribed in the technologies to begin with.