Envisioning and Implementing Sustainable Bioenergy Systems in the U.S. South
Recent promotion and development of wood-based bioenergy in the U.S. South have targeted cellulosic liquid fuels for the transportation sector and wood pellets for power generation. Bioenergy development has promised to meet multiple sustainability goals including renewable energy, energy independence, new markets for wood, and rural development. On the other hand, it has garnered opposition from environmental groups for threatening forests and air quality and from conservatives who object to government subsidies and doubt climate science. A team of anthropologists undertook research on narratives, interests, and behaviors of various bioenergy stakeholders. We conducted multi-sited and cross-scale ethnographic research around emerging bioenergy facilities and at extension events, workshops, and conferences attended by landowners, managers, bioenergy industry representatives, and scientists. We also analyzed written materials from websites, news articles, and policy statements. We use the concept of imaginaries to analyze of the promotion of wood-based bioenergy as a new sustainable energy system, while noting the ways the dominant bioenergy imaginary excluded some sustainability goals and voices. As a result, counter-narratives emerged, success was limited, and landowners and communities received few of the expected benefits. This case provides important lessons for envisioning and implementing new sustainability technologies.
We gratefully acknowledge funding from Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service (Agreement 11-JV-11330144-024) and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture - Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (NIFA-AFRI) Sustainable Bioenergy Challenge Area (USDA-NIFA Award No. 2012-67009-19711) that supported this research.
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