I need to start this post off with a bit of xkcd and anthropological humor. The above picture made me imagine how great it would be if all anthropologists could agree to the validity of formstantivism: the average of the formalists and substantivists raised to the power of Marxism [or (F+S/2)^M for short] ;-p
I begin with a jest because I have some sad news. On Thursday, I start a few months of fieldwork including a bit of time behind the Great Firewall. Supposedly, VPNs are of little use anymore. It will be difficult to post let alone read any Energy news. If you see an important piece that you think should be given attention while I am on the road, please do send to email@example.com. Ultimately, news updates will be sporadic over the holiday season with some more regular updates in January and then sporadic again until mid-March. More soon! Here is this week’s update:
I have actually been hearing of shortages for over a week now in Chinese media. I have also heard of complaints that the gas heaters are not keeping residential areas as warm as the coal did in the past. Stay tuned for a first hand account in a few months…
I heard a fascinating lecture this week by Anthropologist Daniel Miller about his new project on Global mHealth, which is very much an attempt to be both theoretical and applied. His speech was very critical of anthropology in general, arguing that theory has really become a game of one-upmanship and as done little except to create a hierarchy within the discipline that favors those with the right social and cultural capital (similar to an argument made by Richard Wilk this summer). Miller went a step further by saying anthropologists who spend their career using theory simply to critique the world but choose not to apply their research to make the world a better place are irresponsible. This is an issue near and dear to my heart as my background is in applied anthropology (I’ll give a little plug here for Oregon State University). My current project is quite historical and I have struggled to find an applied angle to my work. Luckily, I work with a fantastic interdisciplinary team at Airborne, some of whom are putting what we learn about air pollution in China into a more applied context .
OK, so now all these personal musings aside, I was very excited this morning to find in my inbox news of a very applied project on energy research that draws from the fields of public health and anthropology. The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project has been monitoring the health effects of fracking (I like the acronym they use: UOGD or unconventional oil and gas development) in this region of the US since 2012. However, EHP goes beyond just demonstrating the health effects by providing medical assistance to the affected population, providing the community with legal resources to engage in energy justice and to also get local people involved in the process of collecting scientific information about the health effects of UOGD. EHP has provided many useful resources for those of use engaged in energy justice as well as an impressive model to help an academic enterprise transition towards a more public engagement with energy issues in general. Theory is of course important and not everyone should be expected to apply their research, but critique for the sake of critique is irresponsible. Projects like EHP show us how an engaged anthropology of energy can be relevant and successful. So, browse through their website a bit before you jump into this week’s news:
I heard this argument from a number of scholars who attended the Environmental Asia conference here in Oslo. However, those interested in this topic should also pay attention to the important work being done on the social impacts of small hydropower projects by Human Geographer (and Anthropologist in disguise!) Shikha Lakhanpal at the Ashoka Trust.
My own schedule has been quite packed as of late, so I think this report about the microeconomies and lifestyles that have sprung up along the coal trucking routes from Mongolia into China will have to suffice as an intro into this week’s update:
Cox draws on Energy Justice to critique the 100 percent renewables vision that has been promoted, primarily, by the research of Mark Jacobson at Stanford. Previous Energy News Updates have mentioned Jacobson’s research as well as the recently published technical critiques. But Cox’s approach is important because he asks a very tough question: “what are we hoping for?” He argues that if we hope renewables will carry us along at a high-energy economic rate of growth then our expectations are bound to be dashed. But more importantly, that business-as-usual growth only ensures the economic and social inequalities that exist today will continue into the future. The need for an energy revolution provides an opportunity for us to change the way we think not just about technical problems and solutions, but also about our aspirations of a society as a whole. He suggests a pretty heavy handed solution: establish regulatory limits on the total quantity of energy consumed in production and consumption. For some I imagine this will bring to mind words like “planned economy”, an idea which of course comes with some pretty heavy historical baggage. Regardless, his argument deserves critical consideration, particularly as we confront the way the climate negotiations are being manipulated in Bonn this week. Cox is correct to argue that, politically speaking, the Paris negotiations of 2015 seem far away from where we are today. This seems to be further evidenced by a recent Reuters report of how the fossil fuel industry now views issues like Peak Oil.
This idea to install solar panels on the land where a pipeline is planned to be buried seems a pretty savvy way to stay ahead of the discourse promoted by the fossil fuel industry. But we will have to pay attention to how these interventions play out. Alternatively, I suppose you could just go to a Fossil Free House Party ??!! (I wish this was a joke from the Onion…but sadly it is not)
With hedge funds now making money off of the expectation of a steady demand for oil consumption what incentive is there for Big Finance to promote investments in renewables over fossil fuels? Of course, if you’d like a less cynical perspective see here
Two interesting things to note: 1) These petrochemical complexes have been the target of protests throughout China since 2007. 2) Hainan has been an extremely popular vacation spot for wealthy Russian tourists for at least the past decade.
Ah rumor, conspiracy…it is like ripe fruit waiting to be plucked from the tree of discourse to make a fresh squeezed cup of social analysis. Just FYI, Antifa was also supposed to start a civil war at exactly the same time…
This decision was actually made just hours after I published the last News update. Sadly (but perhaps not surprisingly) power generation went down to 18% yesterday after a transmission line “repaired” by Whitefish went down.
I will begin this week with promoting an excellent piece written about wind energy in Andalusia. Anthropologist David Hughes asks tough questions of his informants in rural Spain regarding the way they make money off of wind turbines installed on their ranch land. Ultimately, it boils down to whether the wind should be regarded as a public or private good. This is a timely insight, drawn out through Hughes discussion with his informants, and a proper ethnographical treatment of energy issues. And he didn’t even have to use the word “Anthropocene” once! 🙂 The piece deserves to be widely read.
I have to admit, while reading this piece I had completely forgotten about David’s recently published book on oil production in Trinidad and Tobago, but I think it is also well worth promoting here at EAN:
Although I focused on Puerto Rico last week, again this week brought it back into the energy news spotlight. Last week I posted a local news story about a very small (two employees!) company from Montana awarded a contract to help restore power in Puerto Rico. Those of us interested in issues of energy justice must have been furious (as I was) with the disgraceful comments from Whitefish Energy in response to Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz’s questioning of the way the company obtained a $300M contract to help repair powerlines on the island. The title of this piece by Esquire is spot on:
It makes me feel wretched. Especially because I am from Montana. It is unforgivable. The company should be thoroughly investigated for corruption and the Mayor has ever right to say so without being threatened. Actually Mayor Cruz is a powerhouse on Twitter, I highly recommend following her posts. There are a number of good articles that emerged this week about what is happening in Puerto Rico so I list them here before getting into the rest of this week’s news. Enjoy:
This weekend Energy was in the air at the 5th symposium for Why the World Needs Anthropologists. Here is a great interview with Benj Sykes, a keynote speaker for the event, discussing why anthropologists are so important for the energy sector!
Might take this article with a grain of salt (the author is the CEO of company producing VRFBs) but the potential boost for grid storage with new advancements in battery technology should not be ignored.
For perspective, when a white male slaughters 58 people with guns (plural!) it is called “a mass shooting incident”, but when protestors damage a pipeline it should be called “terrorism”. And this comes from Democrats and Republicans.
Benj Sykes, the keynote speaker at Why the World Needs Anthropologists symposium this weekend, is the Head of Programme Asset Management of Offshore Wind Power for the DONG Energy discussed in this article. Perhaps he talked more about this news at the symposium?
This week I’ll start with two topics that have dominated Energy News over the past month. The first is certainly Puerto Rico and I think the above tweet from last night really says it all. Still 83% of households in Puerto Rico are without electricity even a month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
While Trump has been giving himself a 10/10 for disaster recovery governance in Puerto Rico, the other five living presidents worked together at a fundraiser to help with disaster recovery after an extremely destructive Hurricane season.
Meanwhile in the Middle East the battle over the oilfields near Kirkuk between Kurdish and Iraqi forces has essentially come to a conclusion. Peshmerga forces have now moved their defenses north of Kirkuk resulting in the loss of control over the strategic oilfields.
The politics here are extremely complex particularly when one considers that there is also a very different Kurdish independence movement in Syria, where oil fields were occupied by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Three interesting things of note in this article: That China’s electric grid is still dependent on fossil fuels (true), that a ban on fossil fuel cars would leave the country more vulnerable to natural disasters or military attacks (very unclear), that electric vehicle technology is very young when compared with “conventional motors” (definitely not true).
I need to begin this week with a more serious topic that is unfortunately not so directly related to anthropology: Aramco’s IPO. Over the past two days the Financial Times, Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal have been reporting that Saudi Arabia is considering forgoing the potential $2 trillion valuation of Aramco in favor of privately selling a stake of the company.
The the IPO is part of a massive plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy. Those interested should read through the relevant McKinsey Report since they are primarily responsible for putting this plan into action. The implications for global political economy are quite complex and it is not even clear yet from which stock exchange the offering would be made. This week also saw the Financial Conduct Authority going on the defensive when they changed certain rules to make London more attractive to Aramco.
Last week King Salman also met with Putin in Russia, the first time a Saudi monarch had ever entered the Kremlin. While no firm energy deals were made in Russia, as of today military cooperation between the two countries is just a signature away.
The global energy supply is a vast, complex system and we should be cautious about saying that changes within that system are determined by the events that occur in a single, relatively small location on globe. Yet at the same time the ripples of certain events that have emanated from Saudi Arabia over the past 70+ years can hardly be understated. While browsing through the library this week I happened across Bruce Jones and David Steven’s The Risk Pivot; a pretty standard piece of policy wonk fare that you would expect from the Brookings Institute. However, Chapter 1 begins by explaining how in 1945 Roosevelt planned a secret meeting with King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud aboard an American heavy cruiser in Suez Canal; it was the first time the King had ever left his country. Firm energy deals were also not made during this visit, but the authors paint a pretty convincing picture that the ripples, if you will, from this meeting channeled a massive transition within the global energy supply. It seems to me that at this moment the initial event rippling outward is not the recent meeting with Putin or the potential partial sale of Aramco to China or the IPO, but rather some well orchestrated meeting between McKinsey consultants and Saudi officials a few years ago. Today global political economy seems to be “pivoting” around what happens in a boardroom just as much or perhaps even more than what happens in the bowels of a heavy cruiser. At least what happens in the latter location never pretends to be anything other than a secret meeting. Food for thought.
Many thanks to Laura Watts for bringing this news article to my attention. Unfortunately, the ocean energy sector does not get enough attention in the media, but I will try my best to rectify that here.
I found it truly odd that so many people made fun of Theresa May this week simply because she couldn’t stop coughing during a press conference. I can’t for the life of me understand why that deserves ridicule. At least Philip Hammond was willing to provide her a cough sweet (my American fingers can barely prevent myself from writing “cough drop” ;-p).
One of the key points within the press conference was her announcement to institute an energy price cap in England. Perhaps now is the time to be critical seeing that we know the energy industry is not willing to go through with the deal until next year!
Truly an energy disaster still taking place in Puerto Rico. Only 10% with power and it looks like without help this will drag on indefinitely. While there is talk of debt forgiveness it is not clear that Wall Street would ever allow that to happen.
An interesting analysis of power politics in the US after DOEs new grid resiliency rule. Gas is now teaming up with solar and wind as the clean energy group versus the coal and nuclear populated dirty energy group. I wonder where hydro fits? 7% of electricity output is still a good chunk.
Ok back in Oslo so hopefully can make this a more regular report again. I found it very difficult to find a few hours to put these together while on the road. But I did collect a number of older articles just in case you may have missed them over the past month. They will be sprinkled in with other news from this week.
As someone who has studied China for many years, one particular news item caught my eye this week:
The lead photo I think explains perfectly why this is a concerning issue for the energy sector in Brazil
Investors do not get that excited about an auction unless they know their bid just made them a lot of money. In particular, China’s State Power Investment Corp. aims to profit considerably from their bid for control over the 40 year old São Simão dam, which produces 1,700 MW for the Brazilian grid. It is always risky for a white American to point out the neo-colonial ambitions of China’s state owned enterprises, but recent research critical of China’s various projects in Africa tend to show that is exactly what is happening. This is true globally, particularly from the perspective of energy resources. Being aware of China’s influence over the energy market is important, but we should consider how Chinese state owned enterprises are also changing energy politics around the globe. It is important to recognize the colonial atrocities that were perpetrated against China, but there is no reason this classic cartoon should not be redrawn. China now holds their own knife over the “energy pie” if you will.
And this article just makes all this talk of Blockchain technology used for energy audits confusingly circular….we use blockchain technology to audit energy so that we can efficiently create a currency that uses blockchain technology…aaaahhhh!
This sounds like a fascinating technology but one that would desperately need a lot of study to make sure nothing goes wrong. For those who can access articles behind a paywall see this report from Nature Communications
While gasoline demand might be shrinking, it will be interesting to see if car sales decrease. There is a great deal of social capital wrapped up in cars in Asia, but even before the “bike sharing boom” it was not unusual for the car to simply be parked at one’s home and used only when necessary (to exhibit one’s social capital, naturally).
So now Iraq, Iran and Turkey are attempting to constrain Kurdistan independence by attempting to control their oil revenues. Very crucial to see how other state governments and corporations react to this.
Indeed that was a looong break. I won’t be able to catch up with all the major headlines over the past month but will have a highlights section below before digging into this weeks most recent headlines.
I am still on a trip across the US, this time from Montana to Boston. I have to share one tidbit from the journey. While driving through Cleveland I realized that I had never actually seen the waters of Lake Erie (or Ontario…but I did that two days later, now I’ve seen all the Great Lakes). I needed to get gas and take a break after about 3.5 hours of non-stop driving. I decided that Conneaut, the last town in Ohio while heading East on I-90, would be best, as it had a little harbor area where I could walk around. After noticing that the harbor water was not in the best condition for “feet-dipping”, I began to return to my car and saw this (sorry about the angle):
This was a first for me. Luckily, a local woman was hanging out on a bench by the harbor; I had to ask. She told me that the wind turbine had been struck by lightening years before leaving some damage. The company patched it up, but then in recent months during a very strong storm, the turbine was struck by lightening again and the wind blew the damaged blade right off of the turbine. According to her there was a renewed debate within the community about whether or not to repair the blade, but apparently many people were upset with the local family who had it installed on their property in the first place. I was able to find a number of local news articles about the issue and it appears the situation has placed the town in quite the bind as they signed a 10 year contract to allow energy generation at the site until 2020. Repairs may require the town to extend that contract.
My feeling is that Conneaut is a fairly typical “rust belt” town with many factories and even department stores that have been completely shutdown for many years. Even the old public library, which still bears the Rockefeller name, was boarded up and displayed small tags of graffiti here and there. The woman I talked to expressed surprise when I told her I was just driving through. “No one ever stopped here in the past,” she said. “Now with the internet, were getting on the map, people are starting to notice there’s a beach down the way and stop for a short visit. But in the past no one used to do that.” Perhaps the town will try to draw on tourism to support their future, but I cannot imagine a stalled wind turbine with a blown-up blade will be their seaside attraction.
I have tried to collect a number of articles about Harvey that are most directly related to energy; Democracy Now has in particular been recording a number of very critical pieces that I have been listening to on the radio while driving. I just want to note, that Arkema Inc.’s refusal to provide transparent information regarding their chemicals is very disturbing and reminds me of the lack of transparency in the aftermath of the massive explosion in Tianjin China in 2015 that killed 173 people.
Well as predicted I have been unable to keep up with weekly updates while in Montana this trip. However, I want to share a quick post that I think EANers will find useful. I recently drove to Seattle to attend a conference honoring the retirement of Prof. Stevan Harrell from the University of Washington, a life-long friend and advisor in all things China, Environment and Anthropology (for those unfamiliar with Steve’s work I highly recommend browsing through the courses he has taught over the years on his webpage). While in Seattle listening to the legendary KEXP I was lucky to catch the first half of an old seminar (2002) by Iain Boal titled The Beginning of the Nuclear Age (part two can be heard here). It is an excellent historical account of the first chain reaction set off beneath the University of Chicago in 1942. Boal is an wonderful speaker so I highly recommend it if you haven’t read his work before. I should say that the picture I’ve paired with this post will only make sense to those of you who have the time to listen to Boal’s talk. Enjoy!
Hopefully I will come back to a more regular schedule of updating towards the end of August. Many thanks for your patience!
Updates will be quite sparse for the coming two months. I am currently home in Montana and will be criss-crossing the Northern United States until late September. Being in Montana has made me painfully aware that there is one appropriate topic that perhaps has not been drawn into the Energy Anthropology fold as of yet: wildfires! In most of our work we are focused on harnessed energy that is put to use for cultural, social, economic and political purposes. We often forget that there is also a great deal of unharnessed energy out there in the world, much of which still has cultural, social, economic and political impacts. So today I begin by sharing a photo of a wildfire burning in the Bitterroot Mountains just behind my house. If you’re interested in learning more see the InciWeb post here
What most people in Montana have been talking about is the extremely wet Winter and Spring that led to rich growth in underbrush followed by an abominably hot and dry summer resulting in an explosive situation. Similar high pressure ridges creating these high temperatures and dry conditions have developed in California this summer, and, according to a Mother Jones interview with scientist Jeff Weber in Colorado, “persistent heat ridges are expected to be more common in a “climate change scenario,” although one can’t point to a single weather event and say it’s due to global warming.”
One thing I find fascinating is how some people find wildfires to be a normal event, something that occurs every year, while others (such as my mother) find such events disturbing regardless of the fact that they do occur every year. My mother is particularly sensitive to the smoke and usually “evacuates” for the months of August and September to go see family in Wisconsin. She has been a traveling nurse for more than a decade and so acts like a modern day nomad at times. Long story short, there could be some excellent ethnographic opportunities for examining the impact of the unharnessed energy in wildfires on society. Or, perhaps such a study could even draw into question whether we ever have control over energy at all.
For the next week I will be attending a conference in Venice on labor and precarity in China, so comments will be sparse in this week’s update. But I am sharing some “positive solar energy” from Venice for you all. I think we need some positivity after learning about the very disconcerting news coming from the Larsen C ice shelf this week. Enjoy the update!
Hopefully this comment is not paywalled: It is a good reminder that on Eclipse Day there will be a significant drop in Solar Energy, so it would be good for us all to reduce our electricity usage during that brief period of the day in August.
Solar power really is not dominated by the old dichotomies of North/South, East/West or even Developed/Undeveloped that “modern” discourses are so accustomed to. We still see Japanese solar projects being developed in India, but there could equally as well be India solar projects developed in Japan!
OK, so I was going to spend some time talking about the G20…
I mean, obviously it is important and there was some intense Energy going on in the streets of Hamburg these past few days
But there was also a lot of unproductive things that happened, such as the burning of resident’s cars. I have a good friend from Hamburg and was disappointed to hear his parents left the city for the weekend due to the protests.
And while the first article in the Politics section this week draws some more direct connections between the G20 and Energy, how could anything be more important than this:
Right, so that is an artistic rendering of a solar power plant in China made in the shape of a Panda, but there’s a picture of the real deal in the article above (thanks Snopes!). Naturally, the name of the company is Panda Green Energy.
Actually, my friend from Hamburg loves pandas, so I wrote this for him! Hope everything soon returns to “normal”, whatever that means these days.
One of the primary themes McKinsey sees as driving HR in the oil and gas sector is managing for value andenergy, which sounds like typical corporate chatter and is defined as “the idea that each employee creates ever more business value with more automation and digital tools at his/her disposal, leading to increasing returns on investment in personalized development and support for top performers to get the most out of their efforts.”
While these numbers are alarming, it should be noted that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are not included in the analysis provided in the report. SOEs in China and India are investing massive amounts of money and expertise into renewables. Of course, SOEs around the world also invest 286 billion USD into fossil fuels, which, as the report notes, is four times as much money as the public finance discussed in the report. You can download it here
The media has primarily focused on China’s construction of military bases on tiny atolls in the South China Sea but these tensions are also about that access to and the transport of energy resources in the region.
This is a very general article about the relationship between inequality and environmental degradation, but there are two specific cases of car and air traffic that are relevant to this section. The evidence is mounting that environmental issues cannot be resolved without simultaneously engaging with political economy. I am sure many on the listserve have rightfully been making similar arguments for years! Hopefully more people will start listening.
Geothermal doesn’t show up very often in the media (if you know of any geothermal media sites, please send my way), but the fact that this is coming out of Alphabet seems fairly significant. You can see the original blog post about Dandelion here
When I was an undergrad at UW-Seattle we toured the Hanford Site in Central Washington as part of an Environmental Studies course about Energy Resources. At that time Hanford was covered in solar panels. I wonder what it looks like now.
Apologies, as this news article could be behind a paywall for some readers. It is worth noting that the scholarly the author uses to support basis of their argument has nothing to do with offshore wind power at all. It was published in Ecological Applications and is open access.
Unfortunately, I could not find something fun to begin this week’s update. I spent five days this week at conferences and workshops so feeling a bit of academic overload at the moment but I’ll share a brief thought that came to mind. I remember hearing at one of the workshops in Olso that in terms of environmental impact flying a scholar overseas is equivalent to a few months of driving their car. This is not the first time I have heard such statements but have always felt Joseph Nevin’s study of the 2011 AAG makes this point more explicit (and accurate). I once wrote a blog (unfortunately the WCAA removed that part of their website) discussing the possibility of shifting academic conferences online, but was instantly cut down a peg or two by more established scholars who felt strongly about the irreplaceable need to “shake a colleagues hand” every now and then. Admittedly, I found this past week was extremely productive, but I am remain unconvinced that the academic benefit of meeting face to face at such conferences somehow outweighs the environmental costs. Then again, over the past year here in Oslo I have also been collaborating with a group of scholars from all corners of the globe focused on the problem of air pollution in China and there are aspects of our long-term interaction in a single location that absolutely could not be replicated online. Just as food for thought, with new energy regimes on the horizon, perhaps it makes sense for academics to “take our own medicine” by re-prioritize our own practices, including the way we interact with each other.
This peaking of energy demand is a combination of energy transition, but also increases in efficiency as old plants are continually shut down. There is some discussion in Chinese media that the economic slowdown in China has also had an impact, as has the transition to a technology/digital economy as discussed in the piece below.
Actually the opening of this article may raise some eyebrows for those following the intersection between energy and finance: “Not very long ago, a 17 percent oil price fall would have sent emerging market stocks into a tailspin. But this year they are set for their best first half since 2014.”
It appears now that this week’s major virus attack was the result of initial attempts to take control of Ukraine’s power grid. As the first article notes, there was even a second attack later in the week.
While this sounds remarkable, there is also far more electricity produced in Qinghai than can be utilized by the 6 million people in the province, but it was recently reported that upwards of 30% of the electricity produced by solar and wind was unable to mount the national grid due to quotas taken up by coal-fired power plants.
Although Russell takes his typical financial perspective to analyze the “death” of coal, there are some important insights to take from his analysis of the sale of various Rio mines currently on the table. Food for thought at least. Here is the result of the Rio-Yancoal deal.
I would like to draw your attention to the timing of these two articles. The U.S. trade group article was released half an hour before the article about the U.S. government report, which does go against a kind of causal logic regarding the timing of releasing information and reacting to that release of the information. Of course, the government report had already been circulated within the Energy Corporate community for a few days, so the industry spokesman (whoever that might be) had time to prepare a (typically vague) statement. Notice, though, that the author of these two pieces is the same. The point is that the media is quite capable of warping our sense of the flow of time as well as the link between action and reaction. It may be useful to think about to what purpose does this warping serve as well as whether or not it is even intentional (a slippery slope) or just the result of institutional gears grinding away.
The approaching Era of the Megaturbine…Seems a bit dramatic, but I imagine there must be a point of peak efficiency with regard to turbine size. Perhaps some one on the listserve could write a post about this topic?