CfP POLLEN20 – Towards a political ecology of renewable energy

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
24-26 June 2020
Brighton, UK

Session organizers: Stephanie Borchardt, Boitumelo Malope, and Michela Marcatelli, Stellenbosch University

Session abstract

Calls for a rapid transition to renewable energy as a solution to climate change and ecological crisis are currently rampant and across the board, from the US Senate, where the Green New Deal is being debated, to the streets of many countries around the world, where the social movements Extinction Rebellion and Fridays For Future have been protesting. Most of the time, however, these calls fail to recognize how renewables are deeply embedded in a system of capital accumulation powered by fossil fuels and how they too contribute to its reproduction.

Recent years have also seen a resurgence of interest in engaging with renewable energy from a critical perspective, also within the field of political ecology (Lawrence 2014; McCarthy 2015; Avila 2017; Siamanta 2017; Dunlap 2018a, 2018b; Franquesa 2018; Hornborg, Cederlof and Roos 2019; McCarthy and Thatcher 2019; Siamanta 2019). This scholarship has focused on the processes of appropriation, dispossession, and displacement  ̶  but also resistance  ̶  that underpin the ‘green’ energy transition. For instance, McCarthy (2015) argues that such transition constitutes a ‘socio-ecological fix’ to capitalism’s inherent tendency to crisis, whereby new processes of commodification remake socio-natures for the purpose of sustaining further capital accumulation. In this sense, then, renewable energy is better understood through the lens of land and green grabbing. Furthermore, Dunlap (2018b) has coined the phrase ‘fossil fuel+’ to capture the dependency of utility-scale renewable energy on fossil fuels, especially for the production, installation, and maintenance of new, green energy infrastructure.

This session aims at taking stock of current research on renewables (wind, solar, and geothermal) in the Global North and the Global South with a view to rethink a political ecology of renewable energy. We therefore invite papers that address the following questions, among others:

  • Whose land is targeted for renewable energy production and who decides?
  • What are the socio-environmental consequences of such land-use change, especially in terms of rural labour and livelihoods?
  • How is renewable energy contested?
  • What is the role of the state in supporting the green energy transition, both materially and discursively? 
  • Who is investing in renewable energy and what is the role of financial capital?
  • How does renewable energy contribute to energy security and to reducing inequality in energy access?
  • How does the green energy transition intersect with historical processes of marginalization and dispossession?

If you would like to join this discussion, please send your paper abstract (max. 250 words) to mmarcatelli@sun.ac.za by October 27.

References

Avila, S. (2017) ‘Contesting energy transitions: Wind power and conflicts in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec’, Journal of Political Ecology 24(1): 992-1012.

Dunlap, A. (2018a) ‘Counterinsurgency for wind energy: The Bíi Hioxo wind park in Juchitán, Mexico’, The Journal of Peasant Studies 45(3): 630-652.

Dunlap, A. (2018b) ‘End the “green” delusions: Industrial-scale renewable energy is fossil fuel+’, Verso Blog, May 10, 2018. Available at: https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3797-end-the-green-delusions-industrial-scale-renewable-energy-is-fossil-fuel.

Franquesa, J. (2018) Power struggles: Dignity, value, and the renewable energy frontier in Spain. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hornborg, A., G. Cederlöf and A. Roos (2019) ‘Has Cuba exposed the myth of “free” solar power? Energy, space, and justice’, Environment and Planning E 2(4): 989-1008.

Lawrence, R. (2014) ‘Internal colonisation and indigenous resource sovereignty: Wind power developments on traditional Saami lands’, Environment and Planning D 32(6): 1036-1053.

McCarthy, J. (2015) ‘A socioecological fix to capitalist crisis and climate change? The possibilities and limits of renewable energy’, Environment and Planning A 47(12): 2485-2502.

McCarthy, J. and J. Thatcher (2019) ‘Visualizing new political ecologies: A critical data studies analysis of the World Bank’s renewable energy resource mapping initiative’, Geoforum 102: 242-254.

Siamanta, Z.C. (2017) ‘Building a green economy of low carbon: The Greek post-crisis experience of photovoltaics and financial “green grabbing”’, Journal of Political Ecology 24(1): 258-276.

Siamanta, Z.C. (2019) ‘Wind parks in post-crisis Greece: Neoliberalisation vis-à-vis green grabbing’, Environment and Planning E 2(2): 274-303.

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