9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN12 Environment and Society

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Climate Change Policies Building I, Auditório 4

Sociological Aspects of the Introduction of Biofuels for Transport

Over the past few years, biofuels - mainly bioethanol and biodiesel produced from biomass ? have received increasing attention throughout Europe and the rest of the world as renewable alternatives to fossil fuels in the steady growing transport sector. Simultaneously, however, biofuel technologies have become highly disputed in public debates, in which the introduction of biofuels is alternately presented as a solution to problems of energy supply, climate change, and regional development ? or as a source in itself of further environmental and social problems.
The presentation will outline and discuss findings from a qualitative sociological study of the public?s perceptions of and attitudes towards biofuels, in light of the increasing biofuel debates as well as the complexity of the concerns involved. The study asks how members of the public navigate among the various ways in which biofuels are presented, promoted, and criticized in public debates, and how they relate to the various underlying interests and concerns. Particular attention is given to popular perceptions of risks associated with biofuels and to the interplay between citizen and consumer perspectives on the dilemmas of the biofuel debate.
The study indicates that the general attitude towards the introduction of biofuels is positive, as biofuels are perceived to be beneficial for the environment. However, when respondents are introduced to some of the diverse and often opposing points of view which have been raised in debates about biofuels, their support for the technology is somewhat modified. Typically, acceptance is conditioned on whether or not solutions are found to some of the problems associated with the introduction of biofuels. A fundamental question raised in the interviews is who bears primary responsibility for solving the transport sector?s environmental problems as well as the problems which may result from a large-scale introduction of biofuels: politicians and regulators on a global and/or local level or the public acting as consumers, pushing demand in a more sustainable direction and thus forcing the energy industry to adjust accordingly? These issues will be in focus in the paper.