geography 442 – a student-directed seminar

Energy, Equity, and Social Struggle in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World

The relationships between energy and society are multifaceted and highly complex. Energy issues, be they intra/international conflicts, peak oil, or the viability of renewables, are central not only to geopolitics of empire and climate change, but also to the most banal reproduction of everyday life. International awareness of the challenges faced by climate change and fossil-fuel dependency has given impetus to a widespread reevaluation and critique of industrial society’s relationship to energy. This paper surveys some of the key tensions between various critiques of the energy/society relationship, and highlights the importance of equity, labour, and livelihood in relation to discussions of energy futures. Furthermore, this paper explores whether a shift to “alternative” energy requires an accompanying new mode of production and social relationship to capitalism.

PDF of Energy, Equity, and Social Struggle in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World

December 20, 2010   No Comments

Green Capitalism: Fix or Folly?

The present economic and climate crises have increased pressures on international and individual governments to act. The solutions to these problems are seen within the walls formed by discourses [1] of neoliberalism, the economic growth paradigm and technological optimism. These discourses are essential gears in the oil guzzling capitalist machine.

As solutions to the aforementioned crises, we are told that arctic and oil sand development, electric cars, and carbon trading markets are the solutions to our environmental and economic woes (as if they were separate things). We are told that capitalism can be ‘green’.

Read the rest of this article here:

December 16, 2010   No Comments

Planning for Resiliency: Density, Transportation, and Affordability

The North American lifestyle is coming to an end. Broadly speaking, there are two choices before us. We can continue to increase our consumption of finite fossil fuels, encourage suburban sprawl, and continue our love affair with the personal automobile. Conversely, we accept the reality of resource depletion, the fragility of our predominately energy intensive, low-density North American lifestyles, and we decide to transition for a post-carbon future. The first path essentially characterizes our current trajectory – business-as-usual. A handful of cities and an even smaller number of national governments have chosen the latter path of resiliency. What are the urban implications of inaction? What is the likelihood of change?

This is largely an urban story. As we move forward into a world of energy scarcity and global climate uncertainty, North American cities face many stark realities. Eighty percent of Canadians already live in cities. Cities will face greater social pressures and ecological constraints as suburban dwellers move into cities where living costs are lower and public services are provided. Higher densities, affordability, and transportation alternatives are necessary for cities to become resilient in a warmer, post-carbon world.

Continue reading Planning for Resiliency: Density, Transportation, and Affordability.

December 16, 2010   No Comments

Getting There from Here: Transportation and the Twin Crises

The twin energy and climate change crises represent the greatest threats to human civilization. We have not yet faced such incredible challenges to the most fundamental aspects of our modern existence. In North America, we are particularly unprepared to effectively deal with these issues. The post-World War II urban form of Canadian and American cities has tended towards low-density, highly automobile-dependent communities. This short article will briefly provide background on these two crises, and then illustrate why the predominant North American development form is unsustainable and impractical based on the great amount of oil required. If a reconfiguration of the urban landscape does not occur now by choice, it will be forced upon the North American majority by the reality of energy scarcity. The latter transition will likely be characterized as a period of social inequity and great financial burden (Newman and Boyer, 2009).

Continue reading Critical Response 3 – Energy and Transportation.

December 16, 2010   No Comments

Landscapes of Energy: The Canadian oil sands

Check out this link to see the photo essay on my trip to the Athabasca oil sands located in Northeastern Alberta:

To see the full photo essay including the extensive captions visit either:

Your Inexpensive Alternative


Landscapes of Energy Link

December 14, 2010   No Comments

Renewable Energy Handbook ~ Final Project

This handbook aims to evaluate four forms of renewable energy (Solar, Wind, Tidal, Nuclear) used for electricity generation in order to provide information about the most current technology and conclude which are the most environmentally safe, productive, and economically viable.  I selected these forms because they are the ones I think are either the most efficient or environmentally friendly. Further research could be conducted focusing on geothermal, hydro, and biomass.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Importance of Informative Regulations: Automotive Advertising


I have always been aware of the environmentally damaging effects of the car I drive on a daily basis. However, I have also always had misconceptions about improved automotive based fuel/energy technology. I think this is partly based on the fact that car companies within North America do not follow any advertising regulatory framework. I have explored the ways in which this lack of regulations has impaired consumers decision making. I briefly analyze hybrid/plug-ins, hydrogen fuel cells, diesel and ethanol.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

The Landscape Impact of Power Supply Systems, and the Implications for the Development of a Smart Grid

The Landscape Impact of Power Supply Systems, and the Implications for the Development of a Smart Grid


To understand the many challenges the North American power grid faces, it is important to acknowledge the interconnected and interdependent nature of the system, as well as understand the engineering constraints that must be overcome to transition the present system of power supply, to a “smart-system” for which it was not designed. Future demand for increasing power flows with higher reliability, security, and protection will undoubtedly stretch the current supply system to its limits and due to the interdependence of the system, the potential ramifications of grid failure could precipitate throughout the economic, social, and environmental regimes of which all are connected. To understand the magnitude of this dilemma, one must first understand the many facets that make up the current power supply system, and the structure that the smart-grid necessitates. This paper will focus on the topic of power delivery through transmission and distribution systems: its present effects on the landscape, and the requirements needed for the transition to a smart grid.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Vauban: A Sustainable Brownfield

A Final project by Allison Franko

A deviation from the standard essay format, this final project  is in the form of a photo essay or photo discussion, and deals with the planning process, cooperative development, and liveability of the small community of Vauban, in Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg’s history as an eco-city and the struggles its population has overcome (including the successful prevention of a nearby nuclear power plant development) created the foundation for a strong counter-culture and influenced the conception of Vauban.  A public-community partnership with Forum Vauban (a community organization) and the creation of Baugruppen (groups of homeowners) provided a stable basis for successful participatory planning, cooperative housing development, and provided for the steadfast resolution of future conflicts between Vauban’s citizens. The layout and design of Vauban focuses on car-free liveability, walkability, efficient public transport, ‘passive’ co-housing groups, rainwater management, and alternative forms of energy, including solar panels and a combined heat and power plant. Broad concepts of sustainability, and ideologies such as eco-socialism, will be discussed in reference to Vauban, and as well, to brownfield developments (the re-use of former military bases). Vauban is an interesting example of what one form of sustainable landscape can look like and lessons can be learned from the community’s successes and concerns.

December 11, 2010   No Comments

A Need for Alternatives, Not Substitutions (CR3)

By Alison Smith

It is clear that business-as-usual along side over consumer habits cannot be maintained within our sphere of physical limits. Our economic framework based on continual capital-intensive growth is completely dependant on the use of cheap energy at the expense of human equity and environmental stability. With peak oil extraction either fast approaching or close behind the current decade, the path of energy substitution will ultimately feed the expansion of the social, economic and environmental crises we are already facing. An approach that may positively address these three detrimental issues is energy alternatives. In other words, a primitive breakdown of current energy intensive technologies, as opposed to, enhanced technological substitutes for oil. Ivan Illich essentially forecasts the affects of increased per capita wattage and stresses the significance of rational technologies, such as the bicycle, in his prophetic publication ‘Towards a History of Needs.’ He argues that the loss of rational technologies is apparent when the choice to modernize towards a ‘western’ standard presents its self and in so dependence on energy can rarely be reversed. Due to a present day absolute attachment to energy consumption coinciding with the oil depletion, investment in energy substitution is rabid and has resulted in the emergence of techno-fixes. Claire Fauset’s analytical report, “A Critical Guide to Climate Change Technologies” complements Illich’s conclusions regarding the faults of substitution and the benefits of a socioeconomic reconstruction. Fauset sheds light on the devaluation of alternatives by stating: “A rational solution is impossible because our economic system forces us into irrational short-termist decisions” (Fauset). Advanced technological substitution approaches such as agrofuel or hydrogen promote current levels of energy consumption and ignore the potential of man powered alternatives.

Illich’s concept of an energy threshold – a level of consumption that becomes destructive to society as a whole – correlates fittingly with fauset’s frank ‘right questions’ tactic. We have failed to face the simplicity of our energy crisis because our questions stem from what Illich refers to as “industrial-minded planners bent on keeping industrial production at some hypothetical maximum” (Illich). Fauset challenges western civilizations frame of mind by juxtaposing two angles to similar questions. Within the substitution perspective one would ask “how can people run their cars without oil?” and within the alternative avenue we should be asking “how can people get where they need to go without contributing to climate change?” In essence, rational technologies that rely more heavily on manpower are the only modes –in this case regarding transport- that will not add to social inequity or climate acceleration.

It is important to investigate the false hopes of improving global condition that substitutes emit. Firstly, the implementation of agrofuel has appeared to be “a green fuel that would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation sector, provide a renewable energy source and rejuvenate rural economies” (Food Secure Canada). When in reality this source of fuel starkly opposes this common misconception. It has been well analyzed and hypothesized that the use of agrofuel on a universal scale will “limit land use and result in competition between food and fuel” (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy). There are two easily detectable concerns with an agrofuel based global economy. The demand for basic crop vegetation, such as corn or wheat, will accelerate and over reach the capabilities of supply. Creating sever food shortages. The other concern relates to the fact that the corps well be yield in regions such as Tanzania or Uganda primarily for export. The investment in the crops are not in support of local energy shortages but are to be diverted from their origins and subsidize the maintenance of high wattage per capita within ‘western’ regions. Hydrogen is the other techno-fix that fits the profile of an energy substitution that will not provide any change in consumer energy judgment. Nor will the current availability of renewable energy sources (wind or solar) be of an adequate amount to mitigate climate change. Therefore a primary energy source of either coal or gas would need to be employed to sustain demand. Basically acting as a fake substitute because the same materials would be used in production and no alteration on emission or consumption levels. Fauset sums up the draw towards irrational technologies by stating, “techno-fixes appeal, in short, to the powerful because they offer an opportunity to maintain power and privilege.”

There is no false hope of contributing to the reduction energy consumption, pollutant emissions or social inequity from the operation of a bicycle. The alternatives insinuated in Illich and Fauset comments of energy, environment and civilization merge with a plea for simplicity. Humble actions such as drinking water from a reusable vessel, layering up in the cold or engaging in a bartering exchange all demonstrate primitive breakdowns of our ‘high-tech throw-away’ western psyche.

Works Cited

Fauset, Claire. “The Techno-Fix Appoach to Climate Chnage and the Energy Crisis.”

Abramsky, Kolya. Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution. AK Press, 2010. 301-307.

Food Secure Canada. Agrofuel briefing note. 2010. <>.

Illich, Ivan. Toward a History of Needs. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “Trade Observatory.” 2007. Agrofuels: Opportunity or Danger? <>.

December 1, 2010   1 Comment