The promise and reality of social and cultural metrics

In addition to evaluating the economic, ecological, and health impacts of major public policy initiatives, impact assessments typically also need to identify and evaluate an action’s social and cultural (S/C) impacts. A wide range of S/C metrics have been suggested, and guidelines exist to help ensure their thoughtful and comprehensive development. Nevertheless, many of the S/C concerns identified as part of impact assessments remain vague, are difficult to measure or understand, and are more closely attuned to existing data than to concerns expressed by stakeholders or residents of Indigenous communities. Furthermore, S/C impacts are often deemphasized or, in some cases, outright ignored during project generation and as part of final decisions made by elected officials. Here, we examine the promise of well-designed S/C metrics and contrast it with the reality of how they are commonly deployed, with specific reference to four case studies in North America: municipal planning decisions in Oregon, wildlife decisions in Ohio, renewable energy decisions in Michigan, and pipeline decisions in the western United States and Canada. We argue the importance of moving beyond assessment to decision making, pointing out five reasons why critical S/C impacts are often neglected, and presenting recommendations for the design of clearer, more comprehensive metrics that will contribute to more socially responsive policy choices.

For more visit Ecology & Society; our paper is open-access.

The energy crises revealed by COVID: Intersections of Indigeneity, inequity, and health

The global COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a justice crisis. It also brings to light multiple ongoing, underlying social crises. The COVID-19 crisis is actively revealing crises of energy sovereignty in at least four ways. First, there are many whose access to basic health services is compromised because of the lack of energy services necessary to provide these services. Second, some people are more vulnerable to COVID- 19 because of exposure to environmental pollution associated with energy production. Third, energy services are vital to human wellbeing, yet access to energy services is largely organized as a consumer good. The loss of stable income precipitated by COVID-19 may therefore mean that many lose reliable access to essential energy services. Fourth, the COVID-19 crisis has created a window of opportunity for corporate interests to engage in aggressive pursuit of energy agendas that perpetuate carbon intensive and corporate controlled energy systems, which illuminates the ongoing procedural injustices of energy decision making. These four related crises demonstrate why energy sovereignty is essential for a just energy future. Energy sovereignty is defined as the right for communities, rather than corporate interests, to control access to and decision making regarding the sources, scales, and forms of ownership characterizing access to energy services. Energy sovereignty is a critical com- ponent in the design of a post-COVID-19 energy system that is capable of being resilient to future shocks without exacerbating injustices that are killing the most vulnerable among us.

Read more in Energy Research & Social Science or visit <a href="http://<a href="">Douglas Bessette on ResearchGate</a>" data-type="URL" data-id="<a href="">Douglas Bessette on ResearchGateResearch Gate

Photo Credit: Illustration of the ultrastructure of the Covid-19 virus

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Energy policy for energy sovereignty: Can policy tools enhance energy sovereignty?

The concept of energy sovereignty redefines the priorities for decision making regarding energy systems while encouraging increased reliance on renewable energy technologies like solar. Energy sovereignty involves centering the inherent right of humans and communities to make decisions about the energy systems they use, including decisions about the sources, scales, and forms of ownership that structure energy access. Current U.S energy policy does not center concerns of energy sovereignty, and in many cases may work against it. Policies to enhance energy sovereignty can accelerate electricity decarbonization while also empowering community scale decision making and offering communities control to reduce the myriad externalities associated with the fossil-fuel energy system.

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MSU awarded grant to study renewable energy adoption in Michigan

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“Michigan State University (MSU) has been awarded close to $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a five-year study of renewable energy options using a cross-disciplinary research approach in eight Michigan communities, including two Native American communities.

The project, “Socio-Technological System Transitions: Michigan Community and Anishinaabe Renewable Energy Sovereignty,” will use community-engaged research to collect and analyze local renewable energy risks, barriers and opportunities that can help with decision making and future transitions to renewable energy systems.

This research crosses academic disciplines in the MSU colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Arts and Letters. The principal investigator (PI) is Doug Bessette, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Community Sustainability. Project co-PIs are Laura Schmitt Olabisi, associate professor in the Department of Community Sustainability; Kristin Arola, associate professor in the MSU Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures; and Christie Poitra, interim director of the MSU Native American Institute (NAI). Arola and Poitra are also affiliate faculty members in American Indian and Indigenous Studies program at MSU.”




Improving decision making for carbon management initiatives

This paper by Victoria Campbell-Arvai, Lisa Kenney, Joe Arvai and I reviews five challenges faced during decision making about carbon management initiatives. The first of these challenges deals with behavioral and perceptual obstacles, which often leads to the introduction of systematic biases during decision making. The remaining four obstacles deal with the complexity associated with the carbon management problems themselves. These include neglecting the objectives and related measurement criteria, which will guide decisions among competing risk management options; the tendency to look for singular solutions to complex problems, rather than considering a broad array of options; a lack of explicit attention devoted to the full range of trade-offs that should be considered when choosing among alternatives; and a failure to recognize that preferences, and the decisions that result from them, are fundamentally constructive in nature. We conclude by outlining a decision-aiding approach that has been shown to improve the quality of decisions about carbon management.


Petra Nova, Texas, USA


Campbell-Arvai Bessette et al Improving decision making for carbon management initiatives