Challenges in Sustainability | 2016 | Volume 4 | Issue 2 | Pages 15–16
DOI: 10.12924/cis2016.04020015
ISSN: 2297–6477
Challenges in
Sustainability
Book Review
A Review of ‘Energy and Transport in Green Transition:
Perspectives on Ecomodernity’
Published: 12 December 2016
Keywords: climate change; economy; energy; mitigation; modernity; transport
Energy and Transport in Green Transition:
Perspectives on Ecomodernity
Atle Midttun and Nina Witoszek (Eds.)
Routledge: Oxford, UK. 2016
336 pp.; ISBN: 978-1138793439
Based both on scientific knowledge and the public opinion
to end fossil fuels, political regimes seek more actively to
substitute carbon-intense energy sources with greener and
cleaner alternatives. However, each attempt to transition
or transform energy production and consumption patterns
towards more sustainable ends is bound to be affected
by deep historical roots. As a result, both explaining and
predicting energy development trajectories have proven to
be a difficult task since they are deeply political, covering
different social forces involved in the use, production and
distribution of natural resources. The authors of “Energy
and Transport in Green Transition—Perspectives on Eco-
modernity” face this challenge when attempting to address
the societally and scientifically crucial topic of energy and
climate change mitigation.
This book begins with grand ambitions as the authors at-
tempt “to go beyond both the extremism of the anti-capitalist
critique and the radical enthusiasm of techno-economic pos-
itivism” in their investigation to find ways “to boost a greener
economy and culture” by resolving political, economic and
technological entanglements (p. 2). Their method of investi-
gation comprises of a regional comparative study of mature
Western economies, the rapidly developing China, and de-
veloping economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Importantly,
editors Atle Midttun and Nina Witoszek frame their work
on the “ongoing transformation” necessary to mitigate detri-
mental impacts on the climate as a “battle of modernities”.
(Ch. 1) In this battle, each of the modernities come with
their own myth, which all serve to mobilize the social world
towards specific (technological) development trajectories.
The authors construct a vision of the mitigation champion
in the modernity brawl, namely their particular brand of
“ecomodernity”, which they argue is emerging and able to
integrate the commercial, technological and, in particular,
cultural visions within the ideas of green growth.
As this is it important for potential readers, let us first
give room to how the authors construct their argument. The
authors set off by decoding complex socio-economic green
transitions occurring across the world. More specifically,
the book covers two major themes: the history of energy
sectors across four geographical regions, and more con-
temporary developments in the automotive industry. In this
endeavour, the authors draw on neoclassical economic
concepts and innovation studies as they target: the ca-
pability to drive innovation, the ability to mobilize public
interest, and the challenges of staging complex pathways in
a heterogeneous world with countries at different stages of
development. The theoretical lineage that can be seen here
makes reference to Schumpeter, and the book builds on “a
multitude of international studies, reports, conferences and
civil society initiatives” (p. 14), making reference to Daly,
Max-Neef, Beck, Hajer, Dryzek, Jackson, and others.
Given the greater subject of sustainability and the grand-
ness of the book’s aspirations, it serves to articulate the
authors’ underpinning view on social change. Here, techno-
logical innovation and its diffusion play a central role—while
also disregarding the actual possibility to drive green innova-
tion at the level of Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction
necessary to mitigate climate change (i.e. via industrial
mutation destroy and replace an economic structure from
within). Against this backdrop, the role of people and policy
is posited as relational to three cycles: a product cycle, a
visionary cycle, and an institutional cycle. Or in a charac-
c
2016 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
librello
terization: as new green products and new societal visions
develop, they may be successful enough to mobilize public
intervention for more formalized and supporting institutions.
It is in the interface between these three cycles that the
authors place the dynamics of social change in “the battle
of modernities”. In particular, the interplay between the
product- and the visionary cycle is given priority by the
authors throughout the book. Subsequently, it is through
this lens each chapter is to interpret empirical observations
from across the world in order to theorize “in more detail the
emergent vision of ‘ecomodernity’, which combines both
technological, political, and cultural transformation” (p.14).
However, the challenge of drawing on so many, and
vastly different, cases historically, politically, institution-
ally, geographically, biophysically, sociologically etc.—while
moving across such a long time span becomes apparent.
Going back to the book’s purpose, the analysis of empirical
findings from each case is not sufficiently anchored in their
theory. For example, the notion of mobilizing myths is only
on rare occasions empirically rooted, and overall becomes
reduced to ad-hoc arguments to fill gaps in the narrative.
Thus, the authors do not provide the necessary depth to ex-
plain the dynamics of change involved in a truly convincing
manner, even within their own paradigm. In defence of the
authors, it is indicated in the Foreword that this is done to
assure maximum accessibility, indicating that it is intended
for a broader audience. The authors do present a very
interesting descriptive expos
´
e of various energy technolo-
gies and innovations of main concern for carbon emissions
across time and space. However, the book’s analytical forte
becomes questionable as troublesome arguments emerge
as, for example, institutions and organizations from conflict-
ing social forces are viewed as part of the same cultural
framing, working towards the same “ecomodernity”.
Ultimately, the study object of the book becomes yet
another story of energy technologies, and together with
a hazy understanding, and analysis, of change, the au-
thors reproduce the very techno-economic positivism they
wanted to avoid. Despite this critique, the book presents
worth-while descriptive historical reviews for those inter-
ested in the broader picture of energy production and the
automobile sector in the regions addressed (i.e., the Eu-
ropean Union, the United States of America, China, and
sub-Saharan Africa). The overarching point of how the “eco-
modernity” presented by the authors would consist of an
interplay between the three cycles is made in a compelling
manner, especially given rich level of detail presented in
each chapter. Furthermore, the authors do not abstain
from acknowledging the role the global economy may have
played in technological development, especially in the case
of photo-voltaics. Finally, I would recommend this book
to readers interested in the data and the details, but not
to those interested in deep academic discussions about
economy and sustainability, and if/how a new champion
may emerge from the battle of modernities.
David Harnesk
Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, and Lund
University Centre of Excellence for the Integration of the
Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability, Lund, Swe-
den; E-Mail: david.harnesk@lucsus.lu.se
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