In support of the research being performed by one of the PhD students that I am supervising, I have been reading about ‘energy justice’. Energy justice involves the equitable sharing of the benefits and burdens of the production and consumption of energy, including the fair treatment of individuals and communities when making decisions about energy. At the moment our research is focussed on the sharing of the burdens associated with energy production and ways in which digital technology might improve decision-making processes. Justice incorporates the distribution of rights, liberties, power, opportunities, and money – sometimes known as ‘primary goods’. The theory of justice proposed by the American philosopher, John Rawls in the 1970’s is a recurring theme: that these primary goods should be distributed in a manner a hypothetical person would choose, if, at the time, they were ignorant of their own status in society. In my family, this is the principle we use to divide cakes and other goodies equally between us, i.e., the person slicing the cake is the last person to take a slice. While many in society overlook the inequalities and injustices that sustain their privileged positions, I believe that engineers have a professional responsibility to work towards the equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of engineering on the individuals and communities, i.e., ‘engineering justice’ [see ‘Where science meets society‘ on September 2nd, 2015]. This likely involves creating a more diverse engineering profession which is better equipped to generate engineering solutions that address the needs of the whole of our global society [see ‘Re-engineering engineering‘ on August 30th, 2017]. However, it also requires us to rethink our decision-making processes to achieve ‘engineering justice’. There is a clear and close link to ‘procedure justice’ and ‘fair process’ [see ‘Advice to abbots and other leaders‘ November 13th, 2019] which involves listening to people, making a decision, then explaining the decision to everyone concerned. In our research, we are interested in how digital environments, including digital twins and industrial metaverses, might enable wider and more informed involvement in decision-making about major engineering infrastructure projects, with energy as our starting point.
Derbyshire J, Justice, fairness and why Rawls still matters today, FT Weekend, April 20th, 2023.
MacGregor N, How to transcend the culture wars, FT Weekend, April 29/30th, 2023.
Rawls J, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 1971
Sovacool BK & Dworkin MH, Global Energy Justice: Problems, Principles and Practices, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.