“In the 19th century you did have people starting to warn about coal exhaustion or wonder what happens when fossil fuels are gone, but you still had this economy develop around the sense of limitless expansion. This idea that freedom could come through freeing the constraints that the earth posed to putting the world to work. Fossil fuels really help with this kind of astronomical sense of power, helped to make that fantasy seem possible; this dream, almost, of a free energy. And I think you can see that sometimes mapped onto solar and wind, that one day we will actually have free energy, energy that is somehow unbound from life and the earth and death and decay and all these things.
I think this is really connected to an understanding of freedom that's about this individual independence and liberation from having to depend upon other people and having to depend upon the earth, and as a very masculine understanding, that is not just undervaluing, but also wanting to transcend, care relations and work and all these things that are feminized.”
We need an energy transition—a feminist energy transition.
For years, Cara Daggett has been researching “petromasculinity” and how this patriarchal understanding of energy impacts our relationship to it, ourselves and the fabric with which we bind society. A political scientist at Virginia Tech, Cara’s investigations into the politics of work and feminist approaches to power reveal a new understanding about how global warming emerged—and how to navigate it.
In this thrilling episode, Cara lays out the genealogy of energy back to the nineteenth-century science of thermodynamics to challenge the underlying logic that informs today’s uses of energy. She explains how sexism manifests in our energy systems, how the concept of energy is weaponised by the oil industry, and the anxiety of entropy, exploring the emotional underpinnings of a linear society which is fearful of confronting its own impermanence. She explores feminist energy systems, introducing the three spheres of a feminist energy transition which would see historically feminised work finally valued.
Cara’s book, The Birth of Energy: Fossil Fuels, Thermodynamics, and the Politics of Work was awarded the Clay Morgan Award for best book in environmental political theory. In it she argues that only by transforming the politics of work — most notably, the veneration of waged work — will we be able to confront the Anthropocene's energy problem.
Planet: Critical investigates why the world is in crisis—and what to do about it. Support the project with a paid subscription.