Seeking Ecological Energy Projects !

One of E4A’s PhD students, Matt Burke, presented a component of his research plan at the E4A Annual Partnership Meeting on May 27, 2016, the anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birthday (1907). Energy was the focus of this year’s intensive field course where students interacted with academics, civil servants, First Nations, farmers etc.

Matt graphic for blogpost june 1 2016


With the move from a mechanical worldview toward an ecological worldview, symbolized here by Rachel Carson crowding out the gears in the head, we would expect to begin to see things more ecologically. Yet unless we translate this ecological worldview into action and direct experience, our discovery of ecology will remain little more than an anxiety-producing abstraction.

Take for example the Trinity Site explosion of the atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, and the massive social and ecological disruption witnessed over the following half century. An ecological worldview allows us to recast these events as, respectively, the beginning of the Anthropocene and the Great Acceleration. Yet because our collective ecological worldview is still emerging and thus incomplete, this re-constructed set of phenomena remains too easily abstracted and separated from many of our lived experiences. Without a more personal sense of embeddedness in society and nature, the mushroom clouds and hockey sticks we use to describe this so-called age of the new human instead risk being interpreted as yet another set of dystopian, even apocalyptic fetishes. Our challenge then is to put this emerging ecological perspective into practice through direct action.

The transition to renewable energy systems has the potential to provide for a more profound human engagement with place and our living environments, offering arguably the most significant immortality project of our age. I am therefore seeking to uncover and understand real-world examples of ecological energy projects. These I will likely characterize as projects grounded in ecological literacy, demonstrating a commitment to social justice and ecological integrity, and taking a critical position with respect to the desirability of unending economic growth.

I intend to identify up to 100 projects and organizations currently working in six states and four provinces of northeastern North America. These examples will form the basis of a new database of ecological energy systems, which will then allow further inquiry at the level of individual cases and networks, as well as future participatory research. In this way I hope to contribute original research that can move beyond abstraction to give practical relevance to a new energy system.

Matthew Burke, E4A Graduate Student

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