New production methods are needed to meet global challenges such as climate change, population growth and ecosystem loss. It puts strategies for a sustainable bioeconomy that puts greater emphasis on the use of renewable raw materials firmly on the political agenda, in Europe and around the world.
When pursuing strategies like this, however, it’s important to get the people who will be affected first. This is the finding from a study that three researchers from the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at the University of Bonn recently published in the journal Science Technology.
In their study, titled “Don’t forget the locals: Understanding citizens’ acceptance of bio-based technologies,” the three Bonn-based researchers looked at the public acceptance of two bio-based technologies-biorefineries and aquaponics-and what factors influence their level of acceptance. They want to establish people’s general views about these technologies and how their opinions will change if facilities using these technologies move “next door. ” The researchers also examined the extent to which the acceptance of these technologies varies depending on whether people live in a region affected by structural change, such as the Rheinische Revier.
Green alternative to fossil fuels
Aquaponics is a technique that combines breeding aquatic animals such as fish, crabs and shrimp in a tank (“aquaculture”) with growing plants such as tomatoes or vegetables in water (“hydroponics”). Bacteria are important players in the process, because they are able to convert the ammonia released by the fish into nitrates, which provide nutrients to the plants. Waste from fish farming is thus turned into plant fertilizer, creating a loop. A biorefinery is a facility that processes biomass as comprehensively as possible into various products including chemicals, materials and (bio-) energy. It works in a similar way to an oil refinery, which separates the crude oil into its individual components and thus makes each of them usable.
The study saw nearly 2,000 people participate in an online survey, half of whom live in the Rheinische Revier. As one of the largest lignite mining areas in Europe, it is currently being made a model region for bioeconomy and sustainable management as part of the phase-out of fossil fuels with the help of German government funding. Researchers from the University of Bonn have been actively involved for some time now in various research alliances here that support this innovation process.
The problem with ‘NIMBYism’
The authors of the study compared the responses of the respondents to their acceptance of the relevant technologies established in Germany in general and in their closest industrial setting. It soon became clear that “NIMBYism”—NIMBY standing for “not in my backyard”—was also an issue when it came to bio-based technologies. Although many people are open to the idea of ”green” industry as a basic principle, they are less inclined to get it in their way.
Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the level of acceptance expressed for both technologies is lower in the Rheinische Revier than in the rest of North Rhine-Westphalia. One explanation may be that the people of the Rheinische Revier, whose lives have been shaped by decades of lignite mining, have a more sensitive reaction to new developments and that future structural changes to a bioeconomy more “real” for its locals. part of the world, where tangible plans for a model region are already in place.
Researchers have found that whether or not people accept new technologies that they know little about—such as biorefineries and aquaponics—primarily depends on what feelings and emotions it evokes. technologies in them. While the acceptance of aquaponics facilities is greatly influenced by positive feelings such as joy and hope, negative sentiments such as fear and anxiety play a large role in the case of biorefineries.
People’s perceptions of the benefits and disadvantages associated with these technologies are also key: the results show that the former are often underestimated and the latter exaggerated. Doctoral student Janine Macht says, “Many respondents are concerned about biorefineries that are large structures, a bit like oil refineries, and associate these structures with bad odors. However, biorefineries can also be more compact than large ones and almost emit no odors at all thanks to state-of-the-art filtration technologies. But that is something that must you hammer home.”
At the same time, says the director of the study Prof. dr. Monika Hartmann, it is also necessary to highlight the more obvious advantages offered by the technologies, such as their benefit for the local economy, the creation of skilled jobs and the increase in the amount and types of food grown. locally.
Communicating the benefits and risks of planned technologies and involving the public from an early stage can help to eliminate negative emotions and the perception of vulnerability and inject more objectivity into debates on controversial issues. issue.
Janine Macht et al, Don’t forget the locals: Understanding citizen acceptance of bio-based technologies, Technology in Society (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.techsoc.2023.102318
Provided by the University of Bonn
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