Please look at the content rather than the sender

by: Hans van Cleef

It should not come as a surprise that many citizens are not aware of the state of the (Dutch) energy transition, and the action needed to meet the energy and climate targets. For the ones who – either from a professional or purely from a point of interest – are closely following all the developments of the energy transition, the processes might be clear. However, most others only occasionally run into an article or an item in the news, but are far from being fully informed. They can see that the government is struggling to set out a clear strategy for the energy transition. At the same time, the Regional Energy Strategies (RES) should lead to an optimum solution per region based on a bottom-up approach. This approach is more likely to garner support and acceptance amongst the population. Finally there are several studies and initiatives at a municipality level. All initiatives, from a national to a local level, should and will contribute to the energy transition. Still, the average citizen is likely to be confused by this tangle of different procedures. I think that sharing knowledge about the how, what, why, when and on what level something happens (or should happen) is and will remain therefore crucial.

However, who can we trust with what kind of knowledge? After all, all knowledge centres and exports seem to have their own biases and special interests. Reports, position papers, scientific studies, articles and opinion papers are – despite the conclusions and quality – often driven with these special interests in mind. The bias could be towards the writer, the company/institution or even the sector in which this person works, or towards the name/origin of the commissioner of the study. Someone’s integrity can even be undermined simply by gut feelings and sentiment, rather than intentionally. Obviously it is good to remain critical to the origin of someone’s view. However, judging these views should be based on the content, and not only based on who is the sender of the message. It would be a dangerous trend to not be able or willing to trust someone’s expertise simply because he is working for a company which has a position in the sector – regardless of whether it is the fossil industry or the sustainable sector.

Recently somebody asked me during a presentation on the energy transition whether I practice self-censoring while sharing my knowledge. My conclusion was – after some thinking – that indeed I don’t always say everything and sometimes leave certain facts out of the presentation. Most likely I am not the only one. Some facts are simply more sensitive in the public debate than others. Adding nuance to the discussion – especially on social media – is not always valued by everyone. To prevent all kinds of hassle, we tend to anticipate the public reaction and adapt our message accordingly. Many employees of a company within the energy sector – or related businesses – will normally think twice before he shares his view on the climate agreement or (a part of) the energy transition.

Public support for the energy transition is created by sharing knowledge. I tend to believe in the principle of ‘say what you do, and do what you say’. However, this does not always work. People with other opinions are lined up to debate or sow doubt regarding the reliability of your message. I believe that, besides remaining critical, we should initially trust the expertise and integrity of other professionals and judge them on the content of their message. Although this may sound somewhat naïve, this kind of trust can be the basis for a successful energy transition in my view.