Ethical Dimensions of Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems

Part 4 - Embedded Ethics


Part 4 - Embedded Ethics

Groups of women wearing goggles in a vocational school
Figure 1.12: Women in Vocational School, 1942
Source: Howard R. Hollem from Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Research Choices have Real World Implications

While considerations of procedural ethics require a framework of responsible research behavior, and extrinsic ethics requires an explicit consideration of broader impacts, intrinsic ethics requires a deeper analysis of how the research itself is constructed and where certain choices being made in the line of research embed value judgments and can impact real-world outcomes. For example, the handling of uncertainty and margins of error tend to be mathematical questions concerning the probability of a certain event to occur, yet, these uncertainties can determine real-world decisions about actions, regulations, etc. (Note: Choices made about intrinsic issues can have extrinsic impacts, as the two are intricately related.)

Embedded Values

The basic idea of intrinsic ethics concerns choices that seem to be only considered in mathematical or within the terms of the art, yet can embed certain values and result in different implications as to the application or future direction of the energy and environment knowledge. As well, ethics/values can be embedded in choosing not to pay attention to certain limits or parameters, i.e., in what is not being represented in a given analysis.

Reflexivity in Research

The means to address intrinsic ethics is through reflexive analysis (reflection based on values questions -> course correction) of research choices being made based on the kinds of questions highlighted here. This reflexivity should occur both while conducting research and while engaging in the peer review process.

Some issues to consider about the intrinsic ethics of coupled energy and environment systems

  • How are standards of proof, errors, and uncertainties handled in a given analysis?
  • What constitutes empirical adequacy and how consistent are results, over how many runs?
  • What is the scope? Are some dimensions of the analysis oversimplified?
  • What classification typologies are being used (ontologies)?
  • How / what methods were selected?
  • What went into the choice of research questions?