Knowledge claims in European Union energy policies: Unknown knowns and uncomfortable awareness

13 July 2022
Uncomfortable knowledge
Unknown knowns
Knowledge claims
Energy analysis
Energy policy
Post-normal science
Giampietro M & Bukkens SGF

Cite as: Giampietro M & Bukkens SGF (2022), 'Knowledge claims in European Union energy policies: Unknown knowns and uncomfortable awareness', Energy Research & Social Science, vol. 91, article 102739,

Open Access: The article is available in gold open access under the Creative Commons CC-BY license, Zenodo record:

Abstract: Despite the concerted efforts of the scientific community and politicians to contain greenhouse gas emissions, the CO2 level in the atmosphere continues to increase monotonically. This raises the question whether the scientific representations and related knowledge claims used to inform energy policy have been incomplete or incorrect. Are there alternative relevant knowledge claims that have been overlooked or ignored in the discussion of energy policies and if so, why? We answer these questions by elaborating three case studies, energy efficiency improvements, liquid biofuels, and decarbonization of electricity, and using a novel procedure for quality checking policy narratives that is based in post-normal science and developed in the EU project Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing NEXUS Security (MAGIC). The focus of our approach is on the coherence of the why (concerns or justifications), what (“solution”), and how (“scientific evidence”) of energy policies. We show that for all cases studied alternative knowledge claims, mostly derived from the relatively new field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, would be available for better informing energy policy, but that they are unknown knowns in the chosen framing of the issues. We conclude that the idea that the various concerns identified in EU energy policy can be solved simultaneously is unrealistic. This idea can only persist by virtue of banishing uncomfortable knowledge and the creation of implausible socio-technical imaginaries. When considering different aspects of the problem and integrating different narratives and knowledge claims, a smooth and painless transition to a zero-carbon economy seems unlikely.



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