In the energy debate, energy carriers are often perceived as either saviours or villains, but most often as both. Fossil fuels power a large part of our society, but they also pollute and are sometimes extracted at large human costs. Nuclear power is efficient and powerful, but the consequences of using it could be potentially fatal. Ethanol is environmentally friendly, but may have negative societal consequences. The energy issue is a jungle of pros and cons, a jungle in which we have to navigate in order to make decisions about what we want our future to look like. Often, these decisions are informed by future visions in the form of scenarios, prognosis, and forecasts. In this paper, I will look at how politicians, engineers and other Swedish actors have navigated this jungle regarding the issue of natural gas in Sweden. This will lead me into the question of how decision-making regarding energy has been handled from the late 1960s to the 1980s, in a time when the future of our energy systems became more and more of an obsession for politicians and lay people alike.
Although natural gas has never been a major fuel in Sweden, its presence has been steady in the energy debate for over 40 years. Especially during the 1970s and 1980s it was part of the plans to create a more sustainable national energy system. Natural gas was thought to become widely introduced in Sweden, and engineers, economics and civil servants were involved in an endless discussion regarding the pros and cons of the fuel. Further, the late 1960s and early 1970s was a time when future studies was forming itself as a field, and energy scenarios became more commonly used as one of the factors of decision-making. I want to couple these two processes together, and look at how energy scenarios were used by engineers and groups of interest over time when trying to influence politicians and navigate the process of introducing a new, unknown energy carrier into Sweden.
This story raises several important issues. First of all, it can help us understand the role played by forecasts and scenarios in the decision-making process. The relation between visions of the future and our decision-making today is complex, and needs to be thoroughly analyzed and put in a historical perspective. Another issue regards the actors involved. Who used these future scenarios, and to what end? Did the Swedish engineers and politicians gather around visions of a future natural gas infrastructure, or did they have diverging thoughts regarding what is a desirable development would be? In what way has different future scenarios been used as a power tool in the political decision-making surrounding energy issues?
In my work I draw on literature regarding the relationships between engineers and politicians, and the influence of engineers on policy (Jasanoff, Hecht, Hughes, Micheletti, Sejersted, etc.). I aim to add to this literature by examining the practicalities of how actors try to gain power over the energy issue, using future visions as a tool. In doing this I also hope to contribute to the work done on future studies and energy forecasting (Smil, de Man, Baumgartner & Midttun).