Short Assignment: Understanding how the development of energy landscapes (extraction, production and transport) can result in spatial inequalities in experience for communities.

Assignment details

Here we start to think about how the development of energy landscapes may result in spatial and social inequalities in experience.

Stable energy production is a viewed as key for economic and social goals. Countries and regions often draw upon natural resource capacity to target sites for energy production or the extraction of resources to support energy production. Sometimes these sites may be based on the extraction, transport and production of non-renewable resources, in other sites it may be through the production of renewable energy sources, such as hydro or wind power. However, while these sites and processes are deemed important for economic purposes, the development of sites of energy production, transport and generation can result in local-scale environmental change, degradation and sometimes the displacement of peoples, culture and habitats. These changes can be observed with both examples of non-renewable and renewable energy production.

In these situations we may see the benefits of the energy production being accrued elsewhere, and while there may be some local benefits through the generation of jobs there may be other the costs being potentially born by the local community. These costs may be linked to poor health outcomes or perhaps impacts on culture and social structure. In some instances, these experiences of degradation can be considered as sacrifice zones.

In this assignment, we explore how the use of resources for energy production can create unequal costs and benefits for different groups in society (human and non-human). This allows us to have better insights into the development of energy production but also the potential negative impact these activities may have at a local scale. These examples also may allow us to draw in the academic literature on social inequalities, environmental justice and sacrifice zones to better understand the implications of energy production initiatives.

We discussed different types of energy landscapes – renewable and non-renewable in lectures in Week Six, in Sue’s lecture (Nature and Place 2) and also had Rosemary Collard’s lecture on Caribou and Sacrifice Zones which prompted us to think about spatial inequalities.

The assignment will allow you to bring together an understanding of how a particular type of energy landscape may be linked to the reinforcement of spatial inequalities in experience and to explore these ideas and the geographic concepts discussed in Nature and Place in connection to a relevant example.

Using specific examples, write a short essay discussing how the production of energy can create spatially uneven outcomes in environmental and social experience for some regions. To support your discussion, you will use an example of a specific energy landscape or a specific case study to explore how the extraction, transport or production of energy can result in uneven costs and benefits for different populations.

In your essay you will need to:

Introduce your energy case study and outline the scale you are going to discuss. For example, are you focusing on a particular case study or are you looking at a number of local case studies related to a particular energy type to support your essay.
Discuss the social and environmental benefits and costs of this energy landscape at the local and regional scale.
Use the example(s) to discuss how this energy landscape can create spatially uneven outcomes in environmental and social experience for some regions.
You may choose to focus on a particular energy example (such as oil or hydro power) and discuss the inequalities using a number of site specific examples or you may wish to focus on the energy experience in a region or a particular case study. When you think about an energy landscape you may be interested in the sites of extraction of resources or the sites of production (e.g. the waste associated with energy production), or perhaps the transport of a resource used as a part of the energy cycle (e.g. pipelines).

When selecting your case study take care that you have sufficient resources to be able to write your discussion in a critical and academically robust manner. If you make your example too specific you may find limited material to support your discussion.

In this assignment we will take a wide view of energy landscapes to include a range of fossil fuel extraction processes or the extraction of components related to lithium batteries to power e-mobility. Some examples you may wish to think about include: mining of tar sands, fracking, petrochemical production, green economy developments (e.g. hydro developments).

In your discussion you should be considering some of the following concepts discussed in Knox et al. (2019) and in lectures:

Economic development and environmental protection
Human impact on the environment
Sacrifice zones
Uneven spatial social and economic outcomes
Environmental and social justice

To start your organization of ideas you will have read the relevant sections of Chapter 4: People and Nature in Knox et al. (2019). This text should not be your main reference in the essay but will help you think about the core concepts that you need to discuss.

To support your discussion use material from at least three peer-reviewed academic journal articles, alongside incorporating other appropriate material. Knox et al. (2019) does not count as one of these articles.

One point to note is that when you are searching for material to support your discussion you may need to search beyond the key words ‘energy landscapes’ or ‘sacrifice zones’. There are many examples of articles that discuss local concerns related to energy development that do not specifically use these terms. If you are unsure about your example please contact our tutors through the tutor discussion board, or contact Sue. I have suggested some starter references below that may be of interest in thinking about this topic.

Please note, I have used a range of referencing formats below so you do need to make sure your referencing follows the required APA style (see details under the Format section).

Journal article you may find useful:

Holifield, R. and Day, M. 2017 A framework for a critical physical geography of ‘sacrifice zones’: Physical landscapes and discursive spaces of frac sand mining in western Wisconsin, Geoforum (Links to an external site.), 85 (Links to an external site.), Pages 269-279

Sources that may be a useful starter reading:
An article by D Kingsbury in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs on green extractivism: (Links to an external site.)

An article in The Conversation by Lloréns (2016) about coal ash in Puerto Rico: (Links to an external site.)

Other journal articles that may be of interest. These journal articles are accessible through the SFU library databases.

Castán Broto, V. and Sanzana Calvet, M. (2020) Sacrifice zones and the construction of urban energy landscapes in Concepción, Chile. Journal of Political Ecology, 27 (1). pp. 279-299. ISSN 1073-0451

Thom Davies (2018) Toxic Space and Time: Slow Violence, Necropolitics, and Petrochemical Pollution, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108:6, 1537-1553, DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2018.1470924

Jennifer Huseman

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