From appropriate technology to the clean energy economy: renewable energy and environmental politics since the 1970s

  • Sarah Mittlefehldt


Although many people think of the current transition to a lower carbon economy as a process that has just begun, this movement has historical roots. This paper examines how different ideological and political frameworks shaped the development of renewable technologies in the USA since the energy crises of the 1970s. Public discourse about renewable energy embodied conflicting ideas about how to manage natural resources and different plans for distributing political power in society. Questions about the appropriate role of government in shaping energy futures also influenced the politics of renewable technologies. Illuminating the hidden ideological and political dynamics that surrounded energy policy in this formative era helps us to see the barriers involved in our current energy transition as part of a broader historical continuum. By revealing how different political and environmental goals shaped—and in some ways limited—the transition away from fossil fuels in the late twentieth century, this research demonstrates the importance of history for thinking about current sustainability challenges.


Historical perspective Energy transitions Renewable technology Environmental politics 



The author wishes to thank Kim Smith for organizing this symposium on American Environmental Politics in Historic Perspective.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northern Michigan UniversityMarquetteUSA

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