A dialogue between chemistry and human and social sciences to address environmental issues

A dialogue between chemistry and human and social sciences to address environmental issues
A dialogue between chemistry and human and social sciences to address environmental issues

Faced with the ecological crisis and its multiple facets, scientific research is mobilizing at all levels. Framed by strategic orientations at national, European and global levels, this research emphasizes technological innovation, sector by sector: electric mobility, sustainable agriculture, biofuels, decarbonization, etc. But it is now clear that these innovations must be thought of holistically to provide truly viable solutions for society and the planet.

In this context, scientists from the CNRS and several universities*, chemists, sociologists, historians, economists, etc. have recently explored a new and resolutely interdisciplinary research approach. To do this, they chose to focus on five chemical entities particularly involved in energy transition scenarios: carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, ammonia and plastics. Through a detailed examination of the available data, they evaluated in detail the strategic research directions proposed by several major public and private actors** with regard to their consequences, both ecological (for the Earth system as a whole) and societal. (drawing inspiration from the teachings of economics, philosophy, history, or even cultural sciences). This sometimes results in real tensions, even irreducible contradictions, for certain research directions. Under the gaze of a multidisciplinary cross-analysis, technologically desirable options from a disciplinary point of view turn out to be ecologically, socially or economically damaging. Scientists show that only a deep dialogue between disciplines is likely to reveal these tensions and therefore lead to better informed research, more in line with current issues.

Summoning history allows, for example, to fully take into account the interactions between molecules, and more broadly between technical systems. Mobilizing game theory and public economics provides insight into the risks associated with being too optimistic about the ability of certain research to be funded and widely disseminated nationally or internationally. Using cultural sciences makes it possible to become more aware of the North-South implications of certain innovations, making way for a vision of the world and of progress, technological and human, different from that specific to societies in the Global North. Taking a broad interest in social sciences also makes it possible to raise potential conflicts of use and power around access and control of critical materials necessary for the manufacture of certain chemical entities or energy systems.

Through these examples, detailed in the review Chemical Science, scientists illustrate the cross-fertilizations that can occur through radical interdisciplinary dialogue. The current organization of science and research, still very dependent on disciplinary and sub-disciplinary divisions, leads to the masking of certain crucial interactions between physico-chemical dynamics and societal issues. Failing to establish these links between disciplines amounts, for research, to abdicating its capacity to shape sustainable solutions for the future. This study is a particularly well-documented invitation to fully exploit the wealth of disciplinary synergies to build a science different from the existing one, better capable of offering solutions to the ecological and energy crisis.

*LAll authors can be reached at [email protected]

**International Energy Agency, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate, Shell, Sunergy, Dechema

Editor: AVR

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