One starting point for understanding ZEP’s role as an expert institution is its approach to public communication. From the time of its founding ZEP maintained a designated Public Communication Taskforce alongside its taskforces on Demonstration & Implementation, Technology, and Policy & Regulation, whose efforts are coordinated with the platform’s leadership in ZEP’s Advisory Council. Early meetings in the communication taskforce were characterized by uncertainty about its assignment, as well as about who their target audiences were and how they should be approached. At the taskforce meeting on December 18 2006 initial formulations of its objective included “educate, get rid of ignorance,” “advocate and push for CCS implementation in Member States” and “provide information but also sell CCS.” The assumption within the taskforce appears to have been that its role was to provide ways to frame CCS efficiently and positively, and discussion summaries indicate a conscious effort to establish at least an appearance of dialogical engagement with autonomous publics, recommending the use of the term “‘inform’ rather than ‘educate’ (too arrogant).”
The taskforce does not do or initiate its own research on public engagement with CCS, as the SRA might suggest. Nor does it attempt to directly engage with publics, despite ZEP’s emphasis on public attitudes to CCS as a critical concern. Instead the platform maintains a public presence at events, such as the annual Conference of the Parties to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, and produces communication materials on CCS that are distributed online and to platform members and EU member state governments for use in various educational efforts. Communication strategies are formulated in response to the findings of a designated Eurobarometer on awareness and acceptance of CCS , commissioned by the EC, where surveys of public attitudes in 12 EU member states found that CCS is relatively unknown, that it is not as well favored as renewable energy technologies, and that a number of misconceptions—such as the belief that CO2 can explode—might lead publics to be skeptical of the technology. ZEP’s publications address these findings by seeking to build awareness and correct misunderstandings about the technology, with advocates attempting to further the technology by “[redefining] the social as barriers to be overcome and approach[ing] it as what they must do to make the technical successful .” Like with other ETPs , ZEP's self-expressed concerns about the importance of public attitudes to their technological area have become coupled with public engagement efforts aimed at establishing public acceptance, rather than on facilitating civic deliberation. Indeed, interviews indicated that the marketing of the organization itself was seen as a central objective of its communication activities, and that the production of a clear brand identity for ZEP, expressed through unified design elements and a new logo, were seen as important achievements.
The pamphlet The hard facts behind CCS , illustrates the geological processes by which CO2 becomes “trapped” in storage reservoirs, explaining that technological development is dependent on EU funding, legislation and accelerated permitting processes. EU regulation requiring safe and permanent storage of CO2 is referenced as a guarantee of predictability and success. Another pamphlet, CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS): Why It Is Essential to Combat Global Warming , states that while replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is “the ultimate goal,” CCS offers the sustainable use of fossil fuels, and is a necessary transitory step because renewable energy is currently unable to “sustain even a basic standard of living.” The continued reliance on fossil fuels is presented as inevitable. Few attempts are made to distinguish between normative and technical aspects of CCS, and the technology is described as facilitating European energy demands to be met while boosting European economy and industry competitiveness. ZEP’s pamphlets are described as presenting the joint recommendations of “European industry, environmentalists, scientists and geologists.”
As educational tools, these pamphlets give insight into how ZEP envisions its publics and their concerns, as well as the specific aspects of CCS that such publics are thought able to form meaningful opinions about. The platform appears to operate with a deficit model view of an uninformed polity that will lend its support to CCS if only provided with enough accurate technical information . As one interviewee stated, much time and energy was spent on ensuring that all facts and figures in ZEP’s publications were as accurate as possible. However, there seemed to have been less critical attention given to the broader narratives of a European purpose for CCS. Rather than approaching publics as having diverse interests and concerns about CCS that need to be addressed through engagement, ZEP’s publics seem to be cast as unable to formulate autonomous opinions about the relative desirability of CCS compared with other climate change mitigation technologies and strategies, and as passive targets for information.
ZEP’s publications present a sociotechnical imaginary of CCS as a pathway to protecting and maintaining current European lifestyles and economic structures, while simultaneously strengthening unitary conceptions of “European economy” and “European industry” as defined against the outside world. Tensions and conflicting interests between industries and member states within the EU are not addressed. Sustaining industry and fossil fuel based power generation is presented as integral to upholding current standards of living. The inevitability of continued demand for fossil fuel based power generation is not problematized, and CCS is instead portrayed as a technology whose only risks and uncertainties are technical in kind and thus controllable by experts.
These unitary visions obscure tensions between ZEP’s constituent members. Archival and interview research indicate how communication choices have been shaped by ZEP’s institutional design and the EC’s expectations for how ETPs should envision technological futures.