Monday, January 11, 2010

Recent blog article on Deliberative Democracy in Undersanding Society Blog

In a recent blog, Daniel Little wrote on the central normative ideas and also on different modes of application of deliberative democracy.

On the normative aspects, he wrote

"The deliberative approach (...) looks at belief formation as itself a cumulative and reasonable process; one in which the individual needs to have the opportunity to think through the facts and values that surround the choice; and, crucially, one in which exposure to other people's reasoning is an important part of arriving at a sound conclusion.

Notice how different this process is by comparison with the talk radio paradigm -- short blasts of opinion by people whose opinions are already fully cast in concrete; no opportunity for 'listening for learning' among the participants; no willingness to keep an open mind in consideration of a factually and morally complex issue.

On the applications, he references Professor Jim Fiskin's deliberative poll methodology.

Check out the post yourselves. It is a very edifying read.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An invitation for exchanges about Energy Democracy

The content of this post was originally written as a short article for the April 2009 Newsletter of the STTEP (Standing Together to Enable Peace) Initiative.

STTEP is a great peace network initiative, the brainchild of my dear friend and UPEACE classmate Shreya Jani, and other Indian colleagues. I greatly recommend checking it out.

Energy Democracy:
New Visions, New Challenges

The international community is focusing increasingly on clean energy as a driver of economic recovery and as a crucial global response to climate change and its associated threats to human security. Numerous state and national governments are pursuing new legislation to promote alternative sources of energy and energy efficiency policies. Multi-nationally, new agendas for collaboration on these issues are emerging, a few examples being the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate[1] (APP), established by some of the most prominent economies of that region in 2006, the recent creation of an International Renewable Energy Agency[2] (IRENA) last January; and the current efforts to establish a renewed Energy Partnership of the Americas, promoted both within the structure of the Organization of American States[3] and as a key element of Barack Obama’s political platform for the hemisphere[4].

At first sight, this would seem like a long-awaited blossoming of global social and environmental responsibility in the face of climate change and a vigorous step towards the greening of international economies. Upon closer inspection, however, the framing of this new energy agenda seems at odds with another global phenomenon of great importance, the emergence of a more active and inclusive conception of democracy.

This new vision of democracy is permeating diverse areas of social and political interaction, ranging from inter-generational and gender relations to the endowment of trust by citizens upon experts and decision-makers. In the latter case, as British Sociologist Anthony Giddens has pointed out, citizens’ relationships to authority figures are experiencing a shift from passive trust, based on tradition and pre-established social roles, to active trust, which needs to be earned instead of being taken for granted under existing power dynamics[5].

This entails a profound change in the nature of politics, from traditional implementation politics that seek to affirm pre-existing meanings, institutions and resource use claims, to generative politics that seek to build trust and create new meanings, new social organizations and new resources, through a broader social dialogue engaging multiple stakeholders[6].

Generally, the institutions and authorities responsible for energy sector decision-making at the national and international levels have shown little receptivity to the implications of this shifting view of democracy on the development of energy policy. When facing opposition to their projects or policies by environmentalists, local communities or indigenous groups they tend to perceive this opposition as unreasonable, and frame it in simplistic terms, like “NIMBY” syndrome, political opportunism, or manipulation by other vested interests.

However, these attitudes only reinforce the perception by social movements that their perspectives will not be seriously incorporated into the decision-making process, and that resistance is their only alternative to respond to energy projects and initiatives which exclude their views and concerns. Unfortunately, these two perceptions reinforce one another and can therefore drive a cycle of increasing polarization affecting energy sector management and policy. In such a polarized setting, it is likely for most major energy infrastructure projects to encounter opposition from local, environmental, and/or other social activist groups. Energy analysts, who are used selecting among potential sites based on elements such as landscape, climate conditions and financial cost-benefit analyses, but who have little familiarity with issues of institutional legitimation, stakeholder risk perception, and governance, are likely to become frustrated when one after another, alternative sites face mounting opposition from organized social movements. Often they will tend to fault the general population for “not being properly educated” about the benefits of these projects.

However, at the core of this impasse is a conceptual limitation not on the part of the general population, but on the part of energy decision-makers: their inability to acknowledge the impact that eroded public trust has had in rendering the capacity of energy agencies much more limited when it comes to implementing their own plans and programs. In Latin America, ingobernabilidad – “un-govern-ability”, is often pointed out as the culprit when it appears as if the carefully designed plans and programs of technical experts are becoming impossible to execute – suggesting that a combination of civil society opposition and an excessive burden of rules and regulations have rendered the system “impossible to govern”. It is almost as if the governments and decision-makers are turning to look for a solution in the direction of more restrictive – instead of more open – forms of democracy.

Ironically, energy institutions have had much greater difficulty realizing the importance of a related concept which has a much more integral meaning: that of good governance of energy institutions, programs and models. The concept of governance refers, in a very broad sense, to the traditions and institutions through which power over particular resources is exercised. It contemplates the role not just of formal institutions, but of multiple constituencies at the local, national and supra-national levels. The notion of good governance contemplates elements such as efficiency, transparency, credibility, accountability, and also the assurance that all affected stakeholders are included in decision-making. What many energy agencies are beginning to face, and are having trouble realizing, is that poor governance of energy policies can be as substantial a barrier to their successful implementation as economic, technical or resource constraints.

Therefore, it becomes essential for any movement advocating a cleaner and more sustainable energy policy to incorporate a clear and explicit foundation of democratic principles to guide that policy. Neglecting this may lead to a, perhaps well-meaning, promotion of certain technologies as environmentally friendly, while shrugging off any responsibility for ensuring that these technologies are implemented in ways that are respectful of the concerns of communities, environmentalists or minorities. This contradiction has already been playing out for some time in certain international environmental policy arenas, such as the UN Climate Change Convention, where numerous indigenous peoples organizations have repeatedly denounced the disregard of their human, cultural and environmental rights in the context of measures, such as hydroelectric dams, that are being increasingly promoted to mitigate the impact of global climate change[7].

Moreover, the element of greater social dialogue and greater inclusion in energy decision-making has been omitted from recent instruments such as the Statute of the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Sustainable Energy Partnership for the Americas. This issue is also not mentioned in any of the 9 points addressing Hemispheric Collaboration in Energy Security in the Draft Charter of Port of Spain prepared for the Summit of the Americas, which is taking place at the time this article is being finalized, and in which Energy Policy has been given a central role in the agenda.

In the hopes of sparking a broader dialogue on what the desired principles of energy democracy should be, I would like to offer the following general ideas, in the hopes that other colleagues and friends from STTEP will offer their feedback and reflections and help elaborate them further:

· The commitment to seek greater social inclusion, citizen engagement, dialogue and deliberation in defining the paths through which societies will fulfill their energy needs;

· The implementation of strong, effective and accountable policies to prevent and eliminate exploitation and human rights abuses in the context of energy infrastructure projects;

· The recognition of the crucial role of participation and democratic governance in the formulation of regional policies and partnerships that pursue energy security and energy independence.

· The commitment to harness social energy and clean technologies to produce more equitable and sustainable societies

These principles will be increasingly vital to ensure that the growing social call for a clean energy paradigm leads our local and global communities in a direction that reinforces, instead of disempowering, the fundamental accomplishments of recent years in the construction of more equitable, just and inclusive societies.

[1] The official site can be found at this address

[2] Find the official site at this link

[5] Giddens, A. (1994). Beyond left and right. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.

[6] See for example, Shannon, M.A. (2002). Understanding collaboration as deliberative communication, organizational form and emergent institution. In O. Gislerud & I. Niven (Eds.), National Forest Programs in European Context: European Forestry Institute Proceedings No. 44 (pp. 7-25). Joensuu, Finland: European Forest Institute.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bibliografía sobre Gobernanza Energética - FLACSO Ecuador

La FLACSO-Ecuador ofrece una Maestría en Gobernanza Energética, en el marco de su Programa de Estudios Socio-Ambientales.

Sigan este vínculo para revisar la bibliografía sobre Gobernanza Energética que han recopilado.

FLACSO-Ecuador offers a Master's in Energy Governance (in Spanish), as part of its Socio-Environmental Studies Program.

Follow this link to review the bibliography they have compiled on Energy Governance.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Maybe Willy'ing it can't make it so... but

I really want it to succeed, I really want it to be meaningful!

I like the idea of a Good Ole Texas boy looking at the war in Iraq, and the Bush cronyism policies, and saying, "to hell with it, let's grow our own fuel at home." Or some such sentiment.

I would really like it if the Willie Nelson idea of having a trucker's biofuel revolution was one that could really hold water, and make a strong contribution to reducing environmental bootprints accross the heartland of the gas guzzling U.S. of A.

I am really hesitant, though. Because as much as I like the mystique of the home grown fuel solution, resolving the energy intensity and greenhouse gas emission problems is going to take a lot more than switching fuels. And soybean fuels have been documented to have a fairly problematic environmental footprint of their own. Also, we need to change our models of consumption, our transportation habits, and our love affair with roaming with a big engine down a vast open highway.

Still... we need to work it out so that we have an integrative scenario and so that truckers, farmers, and outlaw country singers can make their contribution... and besides...

I have been waiting eight years to have a Texan I can empathize win... and you can't help but like Big Willie...

Read about BioWillie on this NY Times article (I think it is fairly balanced, since it has the dissenting opinion of the Sierra Club as well in there).