Ethics, Justice,

and the Law

Do wind farms destroy or benefit the environment? Will solar farms eliminate coal jobs? If energy production is critical to social development, how does a society or community manage the unequal distribution of externalities, such as waste discharge? Is distributed electricity generation better than centralized power plants even though it might have higher cost? How does NIMBY ("Not In My Backyard") result in segregation and inequality? Do post-industrial "brownfield" re-developments face different ethical challenges than new "greenfield" developments? These and many similar questions are the heart of the ongoing energy transition. We center ethics—the study about what is morally right and wrong—as a fundamental to our studies of the transition. The quantitative data and analyses of engineering, economics, statistics, and other disciplines rarely embrace this branch of philosophy. If society wants to ensure the success of the energy transition, ethics must play a role in planning, studies, and assessments.


At KETL, we employ energy justice as the fundamental ethical concept that underlies and guides all our work. Energy justice is a rapidly emerging literature. At KETL, we are accepting of various views and definitions of energy justice, many of which originate in different cultural and intellectual traditions. We use this concept in its broadest sense as encompassing ethics issues of development, production, transportation, processing, and use of energy. After conceptualizing energy justice, our researchers have been on the forefront of the concept development.


We keep energy justice concepts central to our approach to the energy transition, while also linking other ethical systems relevant to our mission. We incorporate rich insights from environmental and climate justice, as well as ethical writings on natural and cultural heritage, while also grounding our research in the centuries-old work in distributive, procedural, cosmopolitan, and recognition justice. We are developing ways of expanding ethics in both everyday activities of companies, government officials, and civil society engaged in the energy sector, as well as academic research on all matters of energy transitions.

Our partners in ethics, law, and justice include:

Michigan Tech's Institute for Policy, Ethics, and Culture.

Approaching Justice

KETL members Roman Sidortsov and Timothy Scarlett collaborate with an international team in JUSTNORTH, a project with a group of scholars working on case studies, experimenting with how perspectives on social, environmental, and energy justice can be integrated with planning and management processes. Dr. Scarlett is supporting a PUSH case study in Arctic Sweden, while Dr. Sidortsov is a project PI, coordinating the efforts of dozens of researchers with a specific eye toward theories of justice in policy. The JUSTNORTH team produced a series of useful videos, podcasts, and publications that summarize or examine different approaches to justice:

Schools of Justice | JUSTNORTH

Schools of Justice | JUSTNORTH

Schools of Justice | JUSTNORTH
Schools of Justice | JUSTNORTH

Schools of Justice | JUSTNORTH

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Radical Theories Short | JUSTNORTH Schools of Justice

Radical Theories Short | JUSTNORTH Schools of Justice

02:37
Play Video
Libertarian Theories Short | JUSTNORTH Schools of Justice

Libertarian Theories Short | JUSTNORTH Schools of Justice

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Play Video
Railway at Night