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Environmental justice and the expanding geography of wind power conflicts

Abstract

Wind power is expanding globally. Simultaneously, a growing number of conflicts against large-scale wind farms are emerging in multiple locations around the world. As these processes occur, new questions arise on how electricity from wind is being generated, how such energy is flowing within societies, and how these production-flows are being shaped by specific power structures. The present paper explores the expanding geography of wind energy conflicts by analyzing 20 case studies from across the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Based on the Environmental Justice Atlas database, it reflects on how land pressures and patterns of uneven development emerge as two features of the current expansion of wind farms. Following a relational analysis, these patterns are examined to interpret the plural instances of opposition emerging throughout the rural spaces of the world. The article argues that previously unexplored forms of collective action are expanding the scope and content of the “wind energy debate”. In addition to the claims of “landscape” and “wildlife protection” addressed by the existing literature, this study sheds light on the rural/peripheral contexts where opposition emerges through the defense of indigenous territories, local livelihoods and communal development projects. The study contends that these “emerging storylines” embrace an environmental justice perspective when challenging the socially unequal and geographically uneven patterns reproduced by the ecological modernization paradigm. From this lens, cases of local opposition are not interpreted as selfish forces blocking a low-carbon transition, but instead, are understood as political instances that enable a wider discussion about the ways such transition should take place.

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Fig. 1

Own elaboration based on http://www.ejatlas.com

Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that as of now the inventory does not include any case in China, due to the inability of accessing to verifiable information.

  2. 2.

    Some of the cases presented in the inventory were previously researched by other contributors of the EjAtlas. In those cases, information was verified and updated to produce homogeneous coverage of information, as much as possible. (cases in Colombia, Greece, Turkey, Albania, Slovenia and Kenya –Lamu-).

  3. 3.

    Power Densities: Nuclear 4000 w/m2, Natural Gas 200-2,000 w/m2, Coal 100-1,000 w/m2; Solar Photovoltaic 4–10 w/m2; Wind 0.5 to 1.5 w/m2; Biomass 0.5–0.6 w/m2 (Smil 2008).

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Acknowledgements

The author is financially supported by CONACYT-Postgraduate Research Grant. This article was developed within the ENVJUSTICE Project (European Research Council/No 695446). Thanks to the editors of the Special Feature: “The EJAtlas: Ecological Distribution Conflicts as Forces for Sustainability”. Thanks to Joan Martínez-Alier, Leah Temper, Alevgul Sorman, Gonzalo Gamboa and Lewis King for supporting the writing process. Special thanks to the two anonymous reviewers who engaged with the manuscript providing valuable insights. Any error remains on the author.

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Correspondence to Sofia Avila.

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Handled by Leah Temper, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain.

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Avila, S. Environmental justice and the expanding geography of wind power conflicts. Sustain Sci 13, 599–616 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0547-4

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Keywords

  • Wind energy
  • Land pressures
  • Uneven development
  • Ecological modernization
  • Conservationism
  • Environmental justice.