Burning Ten Guilder Notes for Energy Conservation
Energy Policy 1977: Depletion Policy Options for Western Europe
I was still a student when I published my first professional publication in the authoritative journal Energy Policy, together with professor Jan Kommandeur (see picture below) and associate professor Bert de Vries. It was an article on the policy options for depleting Europe’s oil and gas reserves, mainly the then recently developed North Sea fields. We ran a computer simulation model on the central computer of Groningen University, a system with less computing capacity than an average smartphone today. At the time, using the computer added credibility to your work. Only a select elite had access to the new technology.
The calculations were pretty straightforward though. We used oil reserve data, some assumptions on growing reserves (new reserves and increase in existing reserves) and depletion rates to forecast future output. Jan, Bert and I prepared the semi-final draft of the article during a weekend in a holiday home somewhere in the forests of Drenthe around October 1976. The room was heated by an old-fashioned wood-stove. In the evening, after a day of hard work, we discussed the policy implications of our calculations and, after considerable quantities of cold beer, we moved towards more general and more philosophical issues. When addressing the issue of energy conservation, we discussed the problem of monetary savings as a result of reducing energy use. What are we going to do with the money we save? If we use it for an additional holiday flight to Barcelona, net energy savings will be negative. We took another beer and concluded that the only safe way to conserve energy was to destroy money. Then all three of us threw a ten guilder note into the stove. Happy about our heroic contribution to sound energy policy, we went to bed. The next day we finalized the article. It was published in December 1977.
A Good Text Ruined by Social Science Jargon
Energy Policy 2017: Certifying the sustainability of biofuels
My next major article for Energy Policy was 40 years later. My main work from the 1990s until present is on sustainability and supply chains, including certification systems for sustainable raw materials. Setting up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for WWF and private sector players was one of my major achievements in that time.
In 2015, I was asked by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam to participate in their workshop ‘Bioenergy: Status Quo, Trends and Sustainability Governance’ on October 15-16 of that year, travel costs and hotel paid. I thought it was a good opportunity to bring in my knowledge and experience in the field of sustainability and supply chains.
Young academics like to make things more complicated than they are
If I had checked the programme and the participants a bit more carefully, I would probably not have participated. Most participants were younger academics fighting their way to recognition in a world dominated by journals, reviews, quotation indices and what have you. Intelligent people with a structural lack of knowledge about the real world. I always see my role (and generally the role of practical research and consultancy) in making complex issues simple. These young academics apparently specialize in complicating simple issues by using difficult jargon.
During the workshop the idea was born to bundle our contributions into a Theme Issue of the Energy Policy Journal. I agreed to write one article and to include some of the work by other participants. I wrote an article in which I managed to use a number of practical lessons from my own work. I still think it is one of my best and most practical publications on the sense and nonsense of private sector driven certification systems.
Not my most convincing text, I am afraid
Apparently, the organizers had difficulties to get my article accepted. It took more than a year and eventually my article was drastically revised by a social scientist. As I was on holiday in Scotland, I did not have a chance to take control. As a result, my clear and simple line of argumentation was hardly visible anymore. References had been included to authors who do not have a clue about the real issues, but manage to get their complicated social science jargon published. The paragraphs on ‘methodology’ that had been added, did not have any relationship with the way I develop my arguments and collect my data in real life. After all this editing, the article was accepted by the Journal, but it is certainly one of the least convincing texts I have ever contributed to.
R. de Man, J. Kommandeur, B. de Vries, Depletion Policy Options for Western Europe, Energy Policy, December 1977.
R. de Man, L. German, Certifying the sustainability of biofuels: Promise and Reality, Energy Policy, 2017, vol. 109, issue C, 871-883.