Energy Systems and the Knowledge Problem: The Case of Biofuels
The Center on Capitalism and Society Columbia University, Working Paper No. 85, February 2015
34 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2016
Date Written: February 12, 2015
This paper examines Life Cycle Assessments of biofuels, and concludes that this literature reaches no conclusion on the energy efficiency of biofuels, and their efficacy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The paper analyzes the causes of this inconclusiveness and discusses ways in which better LCA’s can be constructed. While discussions of energy policy presume that the energy mix is a system that can be engineered in order to achieve desired environmental, and economic goals, this paper argues that it is more accurate to understand the energy mix as a spontaneously emergent order that is the product of human action, not human design. The complexity of energy systems, the subjectivist and individualist nature of the human actions determining the outcome of these systems, and the unknowability of technological innovation mean that attempts at designing the energy mix, mandating targets for specific energy sources, or subsidizing specific energy sources can be counter-productive.
Keywords: climate, carbon, emissions, biofuels, knowledge
JEL Classification: B53, H23, Q01
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation