Hal Wilhite Memorial Lecture: Rethinking energy justice and the ethics of low-carbon transitions

How do low-carbon transitions create inequality and how can we make them more socially inclusive? Join us in the 2021 Hal Wilhite Memorial Lecture with Benjamin Sovacool. 

Nuclear power plant

Photo: Colourbox. 


What are the types of injustices associated with low-carbon transitions?  Relatedly, in what ways do low-carbon transitions worsen social risks or vulnerabilities?   Lastly, what policies might be deployed to make these transitions more just? 

The presentation answers these questions by first elaborating an "energy justice" framework consisting of four distinct dimensions-distributive justice (costs and benefits), procedural justice (due process), cosmopolitan justice (global externalities), and recognition justice (vulnerable groups). It then examines four European low-carbon transitions-nuclear power in France, smart meters in Great Britain, electric vehicles in Norway, and solar energy in Germany-through this critical justice lens. In doing so, it draws from original data collected from 64 semi-structured interviews with expert participants as well as five public focus groups and the monitoring of twelve internet forums.  It documents 120 distinct energy injustices across these four transitions.  It then explores two exceedingly vulnerable groups to European low-carbon transitions, those recycling electronic waste flows in Ghana, and those mining for cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The presentation aims to show how when low-carbon transitions unfold, deeper injustices related to equity, distribution, and fairness invariably arise.


Watch the recording 


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Hal Wilhite Memorial Lecture

The Hal Wilhite Memorial Lecture will be organised annually in memory of our dear colleague Professor Harold L. Wilhite.

Hal is best known as an anthropologist, but always with a strong interdisciplinary orientation. At the Centre for Development the Environment (SUM), University of Oslo, he led groundbreaking research on sustainable consumption and energy.

Hal’s research has had a great impact internationally. His numerous publications based on fieldwork in Asia, Latin America and Norway, are widely read. Hal insisted on the importance of understanding human action in its social and economic context. He was particularly critical towards the idea of a green transition which did not involve reducing consumption, and considered a low carbon society impossible to realise in a growth-oriented economy. He was deeply passionate about environmental issues, and lived according to his own high standards regarding sustainable consumption.

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Research on sustainable energy

Read more about our research group Sustainable consumption and energy equity.

Published Nov. 9, 2021 11:11 AM - Last modified Jan. 18, 2022 10:59 AM