Jesse Abrams, Diana Córdoba, Roman V. Sidortsov, Chelsea Schelly and Hugh S. Gorman
As a fundamentally social activity, environmental management is inescapably bound to questions of power. This chapter reviews some of the diverse ways in which power relations come to bear on the decisions, processes and outcomes associated with environmental management. The review considers power as expressed through formal governmental institutions, power as embedded in social relationships and power as a medium and outcome of civil society practices. Starting from a distinction between corrective and persuasive influence, we explore the application of theories of power to questions of environmental management, considering issues such as inequality in access to environmental goods and exposure to environmental harms and the role of state and non-state actors and organizations in perpetuating and resisting domination. We draw upon insights from the interdisciplinary field of political ecology to illustrate applications of these concepts to problems of environmental management. In addition, we consider how the explicit consideration of power in its myriad forms can inform and improve transdisciplinary research and result in more just and effective outcomes.
Brad Barnett, Emily W. Prehoda, Abhilash Kantamneni, Richelle L. Winkler and Chelsea Schelly
Community solar programs are promoted as an effective strategy to reduce economic, technological and social barriers preventing households and businesses from accessing the benefits of photovoltaic solar electricity. More recently, community solar has been identified as a tool to address the challenge of energy poverty facing low-to-moderate income households. However, many community solar programs fail to achieve high participation rates from this population. This chapter reflects on utilizing the transdisciplinary research process to design a viable community solar program using an on-going case study in a remote rural community with a high proportion of low-to-moderate income households in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Our research team, comprising university scientists and local public policy practitioners, gained access to social, technical and political context which helped to shape a more socially acceptable community solar program. Utilizing a transdisciplinary research approach, our current study suggests that program designers should consider community-scale criteria when considering participation, such as the retention of energy generation in the community, the opportunity for community-level decision-making and to benefit local non-profit organizations, and community pride that stems from innovation and leadership. The work offers additional support to previous findings that suggest that trusted technical experts, such as institutions of higher learning and local leaders, can assist in sociotechnical transitions like renewable energy adoption.
Roman V. Sidortsov, Raphael J. Heffron, Tedd Moya Mose, Chelsea Schelly and Bethel Tarekegne
In this chapter, we introduce energy justice, an emerging transdisciplinary concept capable of tackling complex energy problems. Energy justice is a term that has been used in practice (i.e. in non-academic work, such as in the commercial and public sectors) far longer than in academic research, albeit to a very limited degree. With the emergence of the energy justice concept, two approaches have come to dominate, one that considers energy systems using existing understandings of forms of justice, and one that deciphers its two main principles from the unique characteristics of energy as a good. To differentiate between these two approaches, we call them, respectively, the “system” and “foundational” approaches. The purpose of the chapter is to demonstrate the importance of grappling with issues of justice in any instance of environmental management decision making, to show that there are diverse perspectives that offer tools for doing so specifically in the realm of energy systems management, and to illustrate use of an important research and analytical tool by considering how controversial subjects like fossil fuel-based energy systems can be evaluated using different approaches to energy justice.
Kathleen E. Halvorsen, Jessie L. Knowlton, Chelsea Schelly, Robert M. Handler and Erin C. Pischke
In a world with persistent environmental problems at all scales, developing better tools to help us understand and solve these problems is critical. These problems are multidimensional with social and natural system components that often involve technologies. Full understandings therefore require interdisciplinary groups of social and natural scientists and, often, engineers. Environmental management problems can generally be seen as governance issues involving decisions about changes in individual and group actions – the arenas of various social science disciplines. Identifying and understanding possible solutions necessitates the involvement of other sectors, such as industry, governments and non-governmental organizations. Transdisciplinary research teamwork brings together interdisciplinary scientists with individuals with representatives of other sectors to better understand problems and solutions. However, this type of teamwork is challenging in part because of the inherently high diversity of team members. Understanding these challenges and strategies to overcome them is critical to transdisciplinary team success. A series of case studies of successful teamwork are presented to illustrate these strategies in practice.
Kathleen E. Halvorsen, Jessie L. Knowlton, Robert M. Handler, Chelsea Schelly and Erin C. Pischke
Transdisciplinary teamwork is inherently based on the development and management of diverse groups. With such diversity comes increased challenges related to developing shared goals, coordinating work and maintaining group cohesion. It is critical to understand these challenges as well as strategies for overcoming them. These include allowing extra time for research proposal and team development, starting with a core group of team members experienced in working together to conduct transdisciplinary research and choosing team members carefully to balance needed expertise with the social skills needed to work within diverse teams under stressful conditions.
David Watkins, Rachael Shwom, Chelsea Schelly, Datu B. Agusdinata, Kristin Floress and Kathleen E. Halvorsen
The climate change impact of household food, energy and water consumption is significant and complex, requiring an integrated approach to gain insights to the underlying drivers of behavior and design effective interventions. This chapter describes how a transdisciplinary team – including community-based organizations, government scientists and academic researchers – formed to address this challenge, along with the mixed methodology study they developed to test feedback, messaging and social norms approaches to reducing resource use at the household level. The chapter also conveys some lessons learned in the process. Based on the authors’ experience, successful transdisciplinary research depends on building a team with both the necessary disciplinary expertise and strong interdisciplinary research experience, investing time up front to discuss research challenges and opportunities from multiple perspectives, and developing close partnerships with groups outside of academia who have shared goals and can help provide access to valuable community resources.