Fairness in Energy Transitions: Confronting Ecologically Tragic Situations

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Transitioning societies to spatially extensive renewable energy sources (e.g., manufacturing and erecting wind turbines, solar panels, building geothermal power plants, hydroelectric dams, harvesting biofuels, and extracting the rare earth minerals and other materials necessary to do all of this) engenders numerous questions of fairness. Despite aiming to make society greener, developing renewable energy infrastructure ensures the future degradation and destruction of wilderness and ecosystem services on a massive scale. But continuing usage of fossil fuels will result in a myriad of environmental disasters (flooding, shoreline erosion, forest fires, desertification, glacial melt, etc.) from climate change. How ought societies to fairly balance the litany of competing interests in cases where whatever decision is made, grave harms will occur? In hopes of gaining greater clarity for confronting these issues, this paper examines four reasonable approaches (cost-benefit, sufficientarian, democratic, and pluralist) for fairly adjudicating clashing demands in ecologically tragic situations, i.e., circumstances in which the preferred way of meeting some citizens’ vital interests is through acts of environmental destruction that undermine the vital interests of other citizens. This paper will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the respective frameworks, ultimately recommending a liberal pluralist approach for securing fairness in energy transitions.
theory, ecocide, renewable energy, green transition, liberalism, justice