geography 442 – a student-directed seminar

Final Projects

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.
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George Rahi

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

Heather Pottinger

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.
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Alison Smith

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.
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Adam Cassady

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.

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

Matthew Baker

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’.

Much of this course has dealt with understanding the conditions and contradictions of capitalism. I would; therefore, like to maintain this focus and cement a better understanding of this topic for myself and others who wish to debate these issues further. I will do this by summarizing critiques of capitalism from readings of this course and elsewhere.  I chose to do this because I believe that understanding capitalism is a fundamental precedent for any serious analysis of energy issues and society at large as it its logic pervades every area of social, political, and economic life.

In what follows I will review how capitalism works and how it has become dominant as a social system.  I will then argue why green capitalism is unwise as a long-term solution to mitigate climate change and improve the material conditions of society and life on earth.

Continue reading Green Capitalism: Fix or Folly?

Andy Longhurst

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.

Will McClary

The author traveled to Fort McMurray and Christina Lake Alberta for aworkshop organized by the NGO Waterlution. The workshop broughttogether a group of young people from Canada and focused on wateruse in the Canadian oil sands. The group participated in an aerial tour ofFort McMurray and the nearby mining operations accompanied by MarcHuot of the Pembina Institute, as well as a tour of Cenovus’ Christina Lakesteam assisted gravity drainage site accompanied by a Cenovus employee.Highlights from the week also included lectures from a senior hydro-geologist working on the Christina Lake regional water management planand a senior hydro-geologist working for Alberta Environment. Facts incaptions without citations have been learned from this workshop andfrom personal work experience in the field.
Continue Reading. Landscapes of Energy: the Canadian Oil Sands