completely to CO
. Materials research on
proton and oxygen ion conductors in the
past decade shows that such fuel cells are
For intermediate-temperature hybrid
fuel cells to become a reality, researchers
need to create solid electrolytes with high
conductivity, and find electrode materials
that have high activity and stability and
that react with methane without form-
ing coke (solid carbon). These devices
must use less platinum catalyst and more
impure fuel than low-temperature poly-
mer cells; make do with cheaper seals and
connectors; and last longer than higher-
temperature solid-oxide fuel cells.
US researchers have made a start. I
launched the Reliable Electricity Based on
Electrochemical Systems (REBELS) pro-
gramme at ARPA-E with $33million in
funding in June 2014. It is starting to bear
fruit10. Efforts elsewhere, particularly in
Europe and Japan, are addressing hydro-
gen generation and GTL separately but
could also benefit from hybrid fuel cells.
Researchers should prove the viability of
intermediate-temperature fuel cells with
these extra functions by demonstrating
high power density and a lifetime of ten
years, compared with current cell lifetimes
of less than five. Cost savings must be vali-
dated through rigorous techno-economic
modelling. Advances will then need to be
scaled up from individual cells to kilowatt-
scale systems, which will take 5–10 years.
Regulators, utility companies, technol-
ogists and users must define an appropri-
ate mix of technologies and incentives to
maintain the stability of the electricity
grid in the coming decades. Hybrid fuel
cells must be part of that conversation. ■
John P. Lemmon is a programme director
at the US Department of Energy Advanced
Research Projects Agency–Energy
(ARPA-E), Washington DC, USA.
1. Schröder, C. Der Spiegel ‘Energy Revolution
Hiccups: Grid Instability Has Industry
Scrambling for Solutions’ (16 August 2012).
2. US Energy Information Administration.
Modeling Distributed Generation in the
Building Sectors (EIA, 2013).
3. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Assessment of Demand Response and
Advanced Metering (2012).
4. Lew, D. et al. The Western Wind and Solar
Integration Study Phase 2 (US Natl Renewable
Energy Lab., 2013).
5. Weiss, J. & Tsuchida, B. Integrating Renewable
Energy into the Electricity Grid (Brattle Group,
6. Chartouni, D., Kuriyama, N., Kiyobayahsi, T. &
Chen, J. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 27, 945–952
7. Wang, C., Appleby, A. J., Cocke, D. L.
J. Electrochem. Soc. 151, A260–A264 (2004).
8. Van Overmeere, Q., Kerman, K. & Ramanathan,
S. Nano Lett. 12, 3756–3760 (2012).
9. Jacobs, T. J. Pet. Technol. 65, 4135 (2013).
10. Duan, C. et al. Science http://dx.doi.org/
Democracy is not
Climate scientists are tiring of governance that does not
lead to action. But democracy must not be weakened in
the fight against global warming, warns Nico Stehr.
There are many threats to democracy
in the modern era. Not least is the
risk posed by the widespread public
feeling that politicians are not listening.
Such discontent can be seen in the politi-
cal far right: the Tea Party movement in the
United States, the UK Independence Party,
the Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the
Islamization of the West) demonstrators in
Germany, and the National Front in France.
More surprisingly, a similar impatience
with the political elite is now also present
in the scientific community. Researchers
are increasingly concerned that no one is
listening to their diagnosis of the dangers
of human-induced climate change and
its long-lasting consequences, despite the
robust scientific consensus. As govern-
ments continue to fail to take appropriate
political action, democracy begins to look
to some like an inconvenient form of gov-
ernance. There is a tendency to want to take
decisions out of the hands of politicians
and the public, and, given the ‘exceptional
circumstances’, put the decisions into the
hands of scientists themselves.
This scientific disenchantment with
democracy has slipped under the radar
of many social scientists and commen-
tators. Attention is urgently needed:
24 SEPTEMBER 2015 | VOL 525 | NATURE | 449
ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID PARKINS
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
the solution to the intractable ‘wicked
problem’ of global warming is to enhance
democracy, not jettison it.
VOICES OF DISCONTENT
Democratic nations seem to have failed
us in the climate arena so far. The past
decade’s climate summits in Copenhagen,
Cancun, Durban and Warsaw were politi-
cal washouts. Expectations for the next
meeting in Paris this December are low.
Academics increasingly point to democ-
racy as a reason for failure. NASA climate
researcher James Hansen was quoted
in 2009 in The Guardian as saying: “the
democratic process doesn’t quite seem
to be working”1. In a special issue of the
journal Environmental Politics in 2010,
political scientist Mark Beeson argued2
that forms of ‘good’ authoritarianism “may
become not only justifiable, but essen-
tial for the survival of humanity in any-
thing approaching a civilised form”. The
title of an opinion piece published earlier
this year in The Conversation, an online
magazine funded by universities, sums up
the issue: ‘Hidden crisis of liberal democ-
racy creates climate change paralysis’
The depiction of contemporary democ-
racies as ill-equipped to deal with climate
change comes from a range of considera-
tions. These include a deep-seated pes-
simism about the psychological make-up
of humans; the disinclination of people to
mobilize on issues that seem far removed;
and the presumed lack of intellectual com-
petence of people to grasp complex issues.
On top of these there is the presumed
scientific illiteracy of most politicians
and the electorate; the inability of govern-
ments locked into short-term voting cycles
to address long-term problems; the influ-
ence of vested interests on political agen-
das; the addiction to fossil fuels; and the
feeling among the climate-science com-
munity that its message falls on the deaf
ears of politicians.
Such views can be heard from the high-
est ranks of climate science. Hans Joachim
Schellnhuber, founding director of the
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact
Research and chair of the German Advi-
sory Council on Global Change, said of
the inaction in a 2011 interview with Ger
man newspaper Der Spiegel: “comfort and
ignorance are the biggest flaws of human
character. This is a potentially deadly mix”.
What, then, is the alternative? The solu-
tion hinted at by many people leans towards
a technocracy, in which decisions are made
by those with technical knowledge. This can
be seen in a shift in the statements of some
co-authors of Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change reports, who are moving
away from a purely advisory role towards
policy prescription (see, for example, ref. 3).
We must be careful what we wish for.
Nations that have followed the path of
‘authoritarian modernization’, such as
China and Russia, cannot claim to have
a record of environmental accomplish-
ments. In the past two or three years,
China’s system has made it a global leader
in renewables (it accounts for more than
one-quarter of the planet’s investment in
such energies4). Despite this, it is strug-
gling to meet ambitious environmen-
tal targets and will continue to lead the
world for some time in greenhouse-gas
emissions. As Chinese citizens become
wealthier and more educated, they will
surely push for more democratic inclusion
in environmental policymaking.
Broad-based support for environmen-
tal concerns and subsequent regulations
came about in
argument on the
value of nature for
racies learn from
cies lack flexibility
have forged the most effective international
agreements, such as the Montreal Protocol
against ozone-depleting substances.
Impatient scientists often privilege hegem-
onic players such as world powers, states,
transnational organizations, and multina-
tional corporations. They tend to prefer
sweeping policies of global mitigation over
messier approaches of local adaptation; for
them, global knowledge triumphs over local
know-how. But societal trends are going in
the opposite direction. The ability of large
institutions to impose their will on citizens
is declining. People are mobilizing around
local concerns and efforts6.
The pessimistic assessment of the ability
of democratic governance to cope with and
control exceptional circumstances is linked
to an optimistic assessment of the potential
of large-scale social and economic planning.
The uncertainties of social, political and eco-
nomic events are treated as minor obstacles
that can be overcome easily by implementing
policies that experts prescribe. But human-
ity’s capacity to plan ahead effectively is lim-
ited. The centralized social and economic
planning concept, widely discussed decades
ago, has rightly fallen into disrepute7.
The argument for an authoritarian politi-
cal approach concentrates on a single effect
that governance ought to achieve: a reduc-
tion of greenhouse-gas emissions. By focus-
ing on that goal, rather than on the economic
and social conditions that go hand-in-hand
with it, climate policies are reduced to
scientific or technical issues. But these are
not the sole considerations. Environmental
concerns are tightly entangled with other
political, economic and cultural issues that
both broaden the questions at hand and
open up different ways of approaching it.
Scientific knowledge is neither immediately
performative nor persuasive.
There is but one political system that is able
to rationally and legitimately cope with
the divergent political interests affected by
climate change and that is democracy. Only
a democratic system can sensitively attend
to the conflicts within and among nations
and communities, decide between different
policies, and generally advance the aspira-
tions of different segments of the popula-
tion. The ultimate and urgent challenge is
that of enhancing democracy, for example
by reducing social inequality8.
If not, the threat to civilization will be
much more than just changes to our physi-
cal environment. The erosion of democracy
is an unnecessary suppression of social
complexity and rights.
The philosopher Friedrich Hayek, who
led the debate against social and economic
planning in the mid-twentieth century9,
noted a paradox that applies today. As
science advances, it tends to strengthen the
idea that we should “aim at more deliber-
ate and comprehensive control of all human
activities”. Hayek pessimistically added: “It
is for this reason that those intoxicated by
the advance of knowledge so often become
the enemies of freedom”
. We should heed
his warning. It is dangerous to blindly
believe that science and scientists alone can
tell us what to do. ■
Nico Stehr is a sociologist and founding
director of the European Center for
Sustainability Research at Zeppelin
University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
1. Adam, D. The Guardian ‘Leading climate
scientist: “democratic process isn’t working”’
(18 March 2009).
2. Beeson, M. Environ. Politics 19, 276–294 (2010).
3. Hansen, J. et al. PLoS ONE http://dx.doi.
4. REN21. Renewables 2015 Global Status Report
5. Runciman, D. The Confidence Trap: A History
of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the
Present (Princeton Univ. Press, 2013).
6. Stehr, N. Information, Power and Democracy,
Liberty is a Daughter of Knowledge (Cambridge
Univ. Press, 2015).
7. Pierre, J. Debating Governance: Authority,
Steering, and Democracy (Oxford Univ. Press,
8. Rosanvallon, P. The Society of Equals (Harvard
Univ. Press, 2013).
9. Hayek, F. A. Nature 148, 580–584 (1941).
10. Hayek, F. A. The Constitution of Liberty (Routledge,
450 | NATURE | VOL 525 | 24 SEPTEMBER 2015
“It is dangerous
can tell us what
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved