What types of people will lead our great energy transition?

May 15, 2017 by Marc Hudson, The Conversation

We sit transfixed, watching the Great Barrier Reef bleach, while our leaders brandish lacquered lumps of coal and energy policy is shaped by tweets.

Each day reminds us of the line credited to the US poet Dorothy Parker: "what fresh hell is this?"

Her contemporary Antonio Gramsci, got it about right when he wrote:

"The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."

We are (we hope) in the middle of a "socio-technical transition". "What's that?" I hear you ask.

A transition has been defined as a "radical transformation towards a as a response to a number of persistent problems confronting contemporary modern societies".

It's "socio-technical" because there are going to have to be some rather dramatic and rapid changes in how we do things, both in our societies and our technologies (the two are intertwined).

How does a transition happen?

One recent strand of work that hits the sweet spot (in that it keeps academics in grant funding and lattes while also being of actual use to civil society) is the study of who does what in a transition – the so-called "structure/agency/power issue".

Classically, overarching theories of long-term change overlook the power of individuals and small groups to shape history, focusing instead on whole social classes or new technologies. But the reality is that we are not (usually) dupes, victims of impersonal social forces. As academics Frank Geels and Johan Schot wrote in 2007:

"…actors try to make sense, change perceptions as they go along, engage in power struggles, lobby for favourable regulations, and compete in markets."

Academics who study social power have endless chicken-and-egg debates about structure and agency – how much wiggle room do "entrepreneurs" have to change the system from within?

The typical answers to these questions can leave even the geekiest academic punch-drunk. But to misquote Steve Winwood, we have to "role with it" , by which I mean think about the roles that individuals and groups perform in any social transition. Let's have a look at some of them.

The controversial author Malcolm Gladwell has argued that three types of people can speed an idea through society: connectors, mavens, and salesmen.

  • Connectors are people with lots of friends and acquaintances who spend time maintaining these connections, leveraging the strength of weak ties.
  • Mavens gather information, evaluating the messages that come through the network and amplifying those they like.
  • Salespeople are persuaders who are capable of propagating messages using the force of their character.

Recently, two researchers at Melbourne University's Sustainable Society Institute produced a very readable (and freely available!) report) called "They make the change: roles of actors in transitions".

In it they suggest four particular social roles (they have others in mind too – stay tuned):

  • Frontrunners are "geared towards making alternative solutions known and available early on" and "act upon their own personal values". In other words, these people are the pioneers, the dreamers who want to build something better.
  • Connectors (in agreement with Gladwell above) do two forms of connective work. They connect solutions to systems, and also try to embed them (finding ongoing budget streams, creating constituencies) and secondly connect actors with other actors, creating alliances and coalitions (for [advocacy of policies, technologies and so on.)
  • Topplers introduce change and "phase out institutions to make way for alternative solutions". They "articulate the values that connect allies and coalitions", or in layman's terms, they have the gift of the gab.
  • Supporters are not transformative themselves but when they start using (buying, sharing) solutions proposed by frontrunners, this "provides the legitimisation, and expresses the societal need for the new solutions and changed systems". Think baby-boomers buying solar panels in their millions.

Nice and neat, isn't it? But as these authors would tell you, there are many caveats. Three will do for now, all fairly obvious.

First, academics warn that there is never merely one actor (or one type of person) driving a transition.

Second, things change. As two academics recently wrote:

"Agents are not "just there" with a stable, uncontested identity, instead they constantly need to (re)define who they are and why they are a relevant voice in a policy discourse. "

Other academics concur:

"…instead of being predefined and static, roles such as policymaker or citizen seem to always be in the process of being constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed, contested, as well as enacted, made and used."

Third, what of hybrid identities like "prosumers"? And what about those who are just trying to maintain the status quo?

Academics, always hedging, will tell you that everything is in flux, so there are no hard and fast rules. That's true, but only up to a point – don't expect Malcolm Roberts and Adam Bandt to be teaming up any time soon.

So far, so abstract. But how does all this play out in Australia's great energy transition?

Well, you have pugnacious entrepreneurs - "topplers" - trying to undermine the traditional norms (hello Richard Denniss and the Australia Institute).

Some "frontrunners" switch from advocacy to opposition (hello, Prime Minister) or, conversely, from digging up coal to powerful climate evangelism. Some outlive their funding, if not their usefulness - the soon-to-be defunct Climate Institute was a "connector" par excellence.

Of course, this is a problem we should to be solving quicker than we are causing, and we need to be more "transruptive". Therefore, I have two questions for you, gentle reader.

First, what kinds of people - besides those trying to throw sand in the gears - are missing from the above typology? And second, how can those pushing for change - the frontrunners, the connectors, the social movers – sustain and escalate their pressure, and meet not just the scale of the challenge, but also its speed?

Explore further: Addressing climate change as a social issue

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rderkis
May 15, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) May 15, 2017
Great men like President Trump!

Ya know ... in the light of all the things he hasn't done (aside from playing a lot of golf) this sort of statement looks more ridiculous by the day. Wake me up when he actually produces some numbers instead of claiming "something great, you'll see" or just adding "it's true" after every non (or counter)-factual statement.

The guy is just inept. You voted for him. Makes you look like a pretty bad judge of character.

...on to the article:

I think the author is missing something about the current change(s). They are not changes from one industry to the next. This is a change that will happen due to individuals just choosing the best way for themselves (by buying individual energy generation and storage systems). This will not be a change by mavens, topplers or what-have-you. This will be a change that happens by many people independently coming to the same conclusions (Standalon complex, anyone? Wouldn't that be fun.)

kochevnik
1.5 / 5 (8) May 15, 2017
@antialias_physorg That is precious given that German government led by a woman raised as hardcore communist, and who may well be Hitler's daughter. Right now German communists stealing apartments and giving them to raping refugees. Maybe you do not have enough pride to protect your women? That happened already in England, where they just watch rapes like free porn show. Trump and Merkel are probably best friends
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (4) May 15, 2017
Great men like President Trump!


I'd say it makes you look like a fecal regurgitator.
rderkis
3 / 5 (2) May 15, 2017
Trump and Merkel are probably best friends

I think your tinfoil hat is leaking and martians are invading you thoughts again. :-)
rderkis
1 / 5 (4) May 15, 2017
Yep, only a man as great as President Trump can accomplish anything. The rest of us, spew words that are just dust in the wind. Forgotten shortly after they are uttered.
With us truth or lies are gone in a flash.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2017
I think your tinfoil hat is leaking and martians are invading you thoughts again. :-)

So FOX is conspiracy site: " German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that she and President Donald Trump have built a "good working relationship"

Are you certain those bullets hitting you missed vital brain areas? I feed stray cat with more important opinions that your fact-free bullshiyte
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) May 15, 2017
That is precious given that German government led by a woman raised as hardcore communist, and who may well be Hitler's daughter.

Erm...whut?

Right now German communists stealing apartments and giving them to raping refugees.

Oooookay...your knowledge of current affairs (and general state of humanity) seems to be...in depth. [/sarcasm]

Yeah.

Right.

Trump and Merkel are probably best friends

Not really. If you read the resumees of their meeting they were pretty cold (not even a handshake) and the way the german delegation characterized Trump is 'uninformed and not prepared'...which is a diplomatic way of saying he's a total incompetent. (Heck, they even say his daughter, who was along for the ride on some private business, was better informed than her dad)
gkam
1 / 5 (3) May 15, 2017
President Rumpy is history, it just has to work through the procedures.

The damage he has done will be corrected by a nation grateful to have dodged another Republican War.

Meanwhile, it is up to us to do our parts, and it is now easy to do so,and practical as well.
rderkis
1 / 5 (3) May 15, 2017
So FOX is conspiracy site: " German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that she and President Donald Trump have built a "good working relationship"


I would hope that President Trump has a good working relationship with ALL world leaders. That's what helps keep us out of wars and gives him a edge on negotiating deals that are good for the American people.
rderkis
1 / 5 (4) May 15, 2017
And while your all bad mouthing President Trump, keep in mind we won't be remembered 20 years after we are gone. And then only by family. President Trump for good or bad will be there in the history books for molinae.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 15, 2017
President Trump for good or bad will be there in the history books for molinae.

Sooo..he's already a 'great' president if he'll be remembered for being bad at it?
I mean...even for someone as much of a cheerleader as you are that sounds like you've pretty much started eating crow and given up on the dud.

(And heck, I have my name in some scientific journals. That's something no one can take away from me. Actually contributing to the sumtotal of human knowledge. I'll take that over a historical footnote for "worst president ever" any day)
gkam
1 / 5 (3) May 15, 2017
"molinae"???

Does intend to mean millennia?

The guy even makes up hos own words. Real credibility.
Benni
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2017
(And heck, I have my name in some scientific journals.
........and you know what else I saw in one of those journals? One of Stumpy's resumes.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) May 15, 2017
"What types of people will lead our great energy transition?"

Dr Randall Mills and Andrea Rossi?

Haha it's ok I'm just trolling.

Speaking of trolls
Ya know ... in the light of all the things he hasn't done (aside from playing a lot of golf)
You should know that Obama played more golf than Trump. Which is ok, golf is exercise which every president needs. Also trolls.

And I guess you haven't seen our shiny new 40yo conservative supreme court justice? First of many.
rderkis
1 / 5 (2) May 15, 2017
And I guess you haven't seen our shiny new 40yo conservative supreme court justice? First of many.


Sorry guy your speaking to a lot of blind commentators who haven't seen anything. My mind could be changed about President Trump in a heartbeat. But if President Trump literally walked on water, all they would see is President Trump muddying the waters with his shoes. :-)
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) May 16, 2017
The news are getting sort of silly. Remember when Trump was chating "lock her up" for Clinton having an e-mail server that wasn't locked down with state of the art security? Well, it seems Trump does his reporting to Moscow in person, handing out intelligence that isn't ecen disclosed to allies (nor even to all of the US intelligence community)

The man is basically comitting High Treason under your noses and you're egging him on.

Anyone wanna lock him up? No? Hypocrits. The lot of you.
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