Summary: This talk looks at how energy politics change over time and the factors that influence how struggles over energy play out. I start out by...
Summary: This talk looks at how energy politics change over time and the factors that influence how struggles over energy play out. I start out by building on two competing theories from environmental sociology that provide political economic explanations of environmental degradation and improvement: ecological modernization (EMT) and treadmill of production (TOP). Ecological modernization theory predicts that as capitalist nations develop the environment will improve. Treadmill of production predicts that capitalist development will lead to further environmental degradation. I adapt these theories to specify the conditions that each theory would best apply to struggles over the energy system. I hypothesize that EMT will prevail when there are high levels of public awareness of an issue, a record of past regulation, a threat of future regulation, and disunity of the business class; and that TOP power relations are more likely to prevail are low public consciousness, absence of past regulation, low threat of future regulation, and high levels of business unity. The usefulness of this contextualized approach is explored using a historical qualitative case study of the struggle in the United States to implement national mandatory and voluntary definitions of energy efficiency for home appliances. The implications of the findings are discussed in light of efforts to transform energy systems.
Rachel Shwom, Ph.D.
Rachel Shwom is an assistant professor in the Human Ecology department who specializes in climate and society. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology with a specialization in Environmental Science and Policy at Michigan State University in 2008. Her dissertation research focused on how different governmental, business, and environmental organizations sought to influence U.S. policies on appliance energy efficiency over the past three decades. Rachel is interested in energy efficiency policies because efficiency improvements are often identified as an important and politically feasible step for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. Rachel has also researched the formation of public opinions on climate change, social science’s role in enabling decision-makers to act on climate change under uncertainty, and media’s coverage of climate change. In the future, she will continue her research on environmental and energy advocacy organizations and the factors that influence their decisions. She continues to develop her interest in theorizing energy and society and under that umbrella continues to research the role that production decisions, such as those made by real estate developers, energy experts, and automobile manufacturers, play in changing energy consumption patterns.