Problems of, and Solutions for, Energy Transformation

This is the website for an Australian Research Council sponsored research project into the disruption produced by the technology of energy and climate transitions. It primarily consists of short blog posts on various subjects, and longer more considered expositions on the same kind of subjects.

The formal name of this project is “Society and climate change: A social analysis of disruptive technology”. The title was meant to indicate that the driving force of transformation is the interaction between society and climate change, and that technological ‘solutions’ would most likely be disruptive and have unintended consequences as a matter of course. Similarly, forms of social organisation, ideas, economics and so on, could also be disruptive of the technologies, so technologies might also not be applied as intended.

Climate Technologies

I call any technology which is proposed, imagined, or implemented to deal with the potential and actual social disorders coming from climate change, “climate technologies”. This means that this website is not just considering new sources of energy (although those are primary), but ideas such as geoengineering, biofuels, carbon trading, carbon offsets, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen production and so on.

Some of the technological solutions that have been proposed to the problems seem to involve fantasies, hype or possibly deceptions, as there is little evidence to suggest they would have the desired effects – at best they might allow us to pretend that we can continue to emit greenhouse gases as we can clear them up in the future, at worst they might compound the problems.

The project has used data from official reports, news articles, interviews and fieldwork. Most of the fieldwork has been done in three country areas in NSW in Australia: Lismore, Narrabri and Bega. The reason for going to country areas was because it is easier to make comparisons, people are easier to gain access to and problems are often more stark. It needs to be said, that two years of Covid has made the field research more difficult and less thorough than was hoped for.

Research Insights

The purpose of the website is to explain some of the insights which have arisen during the research, in a relatively non-academic way, as I hope the ideas here will be useful to everyone, academic or not. I hope that the work here, despite its simplicity, will enhance Australia and the world’s capacity to develop new technology and industries, while giving greater understanding of the complex ways climate technology works in practice. I also hope to help policy-makers factor in the unintended social effects of climate technologies into their expectations and planning.

Important Note

The recommendations for action, which may be found here, are purely suggestions. One of the problems with recognising complexity (see below), is that every situation has the potential to be unique, and the people involved have to carefully consider those unique characteristics and contexts. What might work in one time and place, may not in another. While, hopefully, a helpful framework can be provided, good results cannot be guaranteed. I, and those others quoted on this website cannot be responsible for the results of the application of suggestions, whether those results are good or bad.


Dr Jonathon Marshall

Jonathan Paul Marshall is an anthropologist who studies processes of disorder, disruption and disinformation, particularly in the eco-social-technical spheres. He is currently a Future Fellow at UTS.

considered expositions

Complexity theory

Complexity theory

Complexity theory is a relatively new form of thinking. It encourages people to look at context, and to ‘think ecologically’. Complexity theory takes uncertainty, interaction between different fields, apparent disorder and unintended consequences, for granted. What...



To be banal, problems are part of life. They happen all the time. Some can be routine and some can be existential, such as serious illness, social collapse, or climate change. Yet again, social theory does not generally consider problems as fundamental, hence my...

Technological Theory

Technological Theory

Technology is a complex social process as it nearly always involves, or even generates, a form of social organisation and a form of understanding the world which can get involved with human fantasy. Technology is often presented as rational, or even with its own...

Complexity theory

Complexity theory is a relatively new form of thinking. It encourages people to look at context, and to ‘think ecologically’. Complexity theory takes uncertainty, interaction between different fields, apparent disorder and unintended consequences, for granted. What has previously been the ‘normal Western mode’ of understanding has tended to take these issues as secondary or derivative, when compared to regularity. I suspect that learning to think in terms of complexity, in fundamental in helping people deal with the problems that arise during a transition. Hence much of this site involves discussions of complexity.

Disorder Theory

Disorder theory is related to complexity theory, in that it suggest that regularly appearing disorders cannot be dismissed as accidents. They are regular part of social and technical dynamics, and have to be studied. If, for example, we are not succeeding in our attempts to mitigate and reduce climate change, then that failure is a regular part of the ways we approach climate change, and hence our approach may need to be different. If large software projects nearly always cause problems, that is part of the design process, and needs to be analysed.

Social and physical theory of Energy
All societies run on energy. They all involve the collection of energy, the transformation of energy from one form to another, and the use of energy to take actions and make transformations. The social theory of energy, is scattered to put it mildly, and not much work has been done on it until fairly recently. This website suggests that understanding some basic features of the sociology and physics of energy is helpful to understanding technological transformation, and economic life. To understand the social life energy, people need to understand some of the laws of thermodynamics, where energy comes from, the importance of directable energy and available energy, and Energy return on energy input.