The Ethics of Renewable Energy
Anne Schwenkenbecher

September 5, 2012, 7:15pm - 8:45pm
CAPPE, University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne

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Abstract: Climate change results to a great extent from the way we generate and use energy. Fossil-fuel based energies are a main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Increased greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere trigger climatic change. If we want to combat climate change we need to profoundly change the way we use and generate energy, minimizing our greenhouse gas emissions. This is mostly a problem of energy policy. However, while we might agree that arguments from morality and prudence clearly indicate which direction our energy policy should be taking, they really only tell us which option not to pick: namely business as usual. In terms of where we ought to go, there are several options on the table. These may involve one or more of the following energy options in different proportions: emission-reduced versions of fossil-fuel based energy generation such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), nuclear energy, and renewable energies including wind power, solar power, biomass power, hydro power. While proponents of a 100% renewable energy supply usually presuppose that all moral arguments speak in their favour, equally the proponents of fossil-fuel based options seem to assume that the economic arguments generally speak in their favour. A closer look, however, reveals that the answers to energy questions are not that clear cut. Whichever energy option we choose will come with advantages and disadvantages that are morally relevant. Every energy policy will entail difficult trade-offs. The aim of this paper is to indicate roughly what different energy options there are and how we can determine the moral implications of each option. It seems that a range of criteria should play a role for this judgment, including affordability, sustainability, safety and energy security, and fairness

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