• Kean Birch


Climate change threatens the future of humanity, unless we can find ways to solve a number of pressing issues. We need to transform our societies and economies quickly into low-carbon versions of themselves, or we’ll end up facing societal and economic collapse, international and civil war, and environmental catastrophe. How we go about transforming our societies and economies, however, is a choice we have to make. One choice we could make is to promote and support the transition to a bio-economy—an economy underpinned by the use of biological material rather than fossil fuels in the production of energy, materials, chemicals, and so on. This chapter provides the outline for my analysis of this transition, focusing specifically on the development of advanced biofuels in Canada as a case study.


  1. Bakker, K. and Bridge, G. (2006) Material worlds? Resource geographies and the ‘matter of nature’, Progress in Human Geography 30 (1): 5–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, S., Moss, T. and Naumann, M. (2016) The importance of space: Towards a socio-material and political geography of energy transitions, in L. Gailing and T. Moss (eds) Conceptualizing Germany’s energy transition, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 93–108.Google Scholar
  3. Berners-Lee, M. and Clark, D. (2013) The burning question, London: Profile Books.Google Scholar
  4. Birch, K. (2013) The political economy of technoscience: An emerging research agenda, Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science 7(1): 49–61.Google Scholar
  5. Birch, K. (2016a) Emergent policy imaginaries and fragmented policy frameworks in the Canadian bio-economy, Sustainability 8(10): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Birch, K. (2016b) Materiality and sustainability transitions: Integrating climate change into transport infrastructure in Ontario, Canada, Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation 34(3–4): 191–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Birch, K. (2017) A research agenda for neoliberalism, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Birch, K. and Calvert, K. (2015) Rethinking ‘drop-in’ biofuels: On the political materialities of bioenergy, Science and Technology Studies 28: 52–72.Google Scholar
  9. Birch, K., Levidow, L. and Papaioannou, T. (2010) Sustainable capital? The neoliberalization of nature and knowledge in the European knowledge-based bio-economy, Sustainability 2(9): 2898–2918.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Birch, K., Levidow, L. and Papaioannou, T. (2014) Self-fulfilling prophecies of the European knowledge-based bio-economy: The discursive shaping of institutional and policy frameworks in the bio-pharmaceuticals sector, Journal of the Knowledge Economy 5 (1): 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bridge, G. (2008) Environmental economic geography: A sympathetic critique, Geoforum 39: 76–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calvert, K., Kedron, P., Baka, J. and Birch, K. (2017) Geographical perspectives on sociotechnical transitions and emerging bio-economies: Introduction to a special issue, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 29(5): 477–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Castree, N. (2008a). Neoliberalising nature: The logics of deregulation and reregulation, Environment and Planning A 40: 131–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Castree, N. (2008b) Neoliberalising nature: Processes, effects, and evaluations, Environment and Planning A 40: 153–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. CEC. (2012) Innovating for sustainable growth: A bioeconomy for Europe [COM(2012) 60 Final], Brussels: Commission of the European Communities.Google Scholar
  16. Coenen, L., Benneworth, P. and Truffer, B. (2012) Towards a spatial perspective on sustainability transitions, Research Policy 41(6): 968–979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dempsey, J. and Robertson, M. (2012) Ecosystem services: Tensions, impurities, and points of engagement within neoliberalism, Progress in Human Geography 36(6): 758–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. El-Chickakli, B., Braun, J., Lang, C., Barben, D. and Philp, J. (2016) Five cornerstones of a global bioeconomy, Nature 535: 221–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Felli, R. (2014) On climate rent, Historical Materialism 22(3–4): 251–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Frow, E., Ingram, D., Powell, W., Steer, D., Vogel, J. and Yearley, S. (2009) The politics of plants. Food Security 1(1), 17–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Geels, F. (2002) Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: A multi-level perspective and case study, Research Policy 31: 1257–1274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Geels, F. (2005) The dynamics of transitions in socio-technical systems: A multi-level analysis of the transition pathway from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles (1860–1930), Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 17(4): 445–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Geels, F. and Schot, J. (2007) Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways, Research Policy 36(3): 399–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. German Bioeconomy Council. (2015) Bioeconomy policy: Synopsis and analysis of strategies in the G7, Berlin: Office of the German Bioeconomy Council.Google Scholar
  25. Gibbs, D. (1996) Integrating sustainable development and economic restructuring: A role for regulation theory? Geoforum 27(1): 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gibbs, D. (2006) Prospects for an environmental economic geography: Linking ecological modernization and regulationist approaches, Economic Geography 82(2): 193–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Graham, S. and Marvin, S. (2001) Splintering urbanism, London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hansen, T. and Coenen, L. (2015) The geography of sustainability transitions: Review, synthesis and reflections on an emergent research field, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 17: 92–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hayter, R. (2008) Environmental economic geography, Geography Compass 2: 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Heidkamp, P. (2008) A theoretical framework for a ‘spatially conscious’ economic analysis of environmental issues, Geoforum 39: 62–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hilgartner, S. (2007) Making the bioeconomy measurable: Politics of an emerging anticipatory machinery, BioSocieties 2: 382–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hilgartner, S. (2015) Capturing the imaginary: Vanguards, visions, and the synthetic biology revolution, in S. Hilgartner, C. Miller and R. Hagendijk (eds) Science and democracy: Making knowledge and making power in the biosciences and beyond, London: Routledge, pp. 33–55.Google Scholar
  33. HM Treasury. (2006) Stern review on the economics of climate change, London: HM Treasury, available at: (accessed February 2018).
  34. Huber, M. (2013) Lifeblood, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hughes, T. (1983) Networks of power, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Kedron, P. (2015) Environmental governance and shifts in Canadian biofuel production and innovation, The Professional Geography 67(3): 385–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kircher, M. (2012) The transition to a bio-economy: National perspectives, Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining 6(3): 240–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lawhon, M. and Murphy, J. (2012) Socio-technical regimes and sustainability transitions: Insights from political ecology, Progress in Human Geography 36(3): 354–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Levidow, L., Birch, K. and Papaioannou, T. (2012) EU agri-innovation policy: Two contending visions of the knowledge-based bio-economy, Critical Policy Studies 6: 40–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Levidow, L., Birch, K. and Papaioannou, T. (2013) Divergent paradigms of European agro-food innovation: The knowledge-based bio-economy (KBBE) as an R&D agenda, Science, Technology, and Human Values 38: 94–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lohmann, L. (2010) Neoliberalism and the calculable world: The rise of carbon trading, in K. Birch and V. Mykhnenko (eds) The rise and fall of neoliberalism, London: Zed Books, pp. 77–93.Google Scholar
  42. Mabee, W. (2007) Policy options to support biofuel production, Advances in Biochemical Engineering 108: 329–357.Google Scholar
  43. Matthews, J. (2009) From the petro-economy to the bioeconomy: Integrating bioenergy production with agricultural demands, Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining 3: 613–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mazzucato, M. (2013) The entrepreneurial state, London: Anthem Press.Google Scholar
  45. McKibben, B. (2012) Global warming’s terrifying new math, Rolling Stone 19 July, retrieved from:
  46. McKibben, B. (2016) Recalculating the climate math, New Republic 22 September, retrieved from:
  47. Mitchell, T. (2009) Carbon democracy, Economy and Society 38 (3): 399–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mitchell, T. (2011) Carbon democracy, London: Verso.Google Scholar
  49. Mohr, A. and Raman, S. (2013) Lessons from first generation biofuels and implications for the sustainability appraisal of second generation biofuels, Energy Policy 63: 114–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mol, A. (2007) Boundless biofuels? Between environmental sustainability and vulnerability, Sociologia Ruralis 47(4): 297–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Moore, J.W. (2015) Capitalism in the web of life, London: Verso.Google Scholar
  52. Oreskes, N. and Conway, E. (2010) Merchants of doubt, New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  53. Patchell, J. and Hayter, R. (2013) Environmental and evolutionary economic geography: Time for EEG2? Geografiska Annaler B 95(2): 111–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith, J. (2010) Biofuels and the globalization of risk, London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  55. Soyez, D. and Schulz, C. (2008) Editorial: Facets of an emerging environmental economic geography (EEG), Geoforum 39: 17–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Staffas, L., Gustavsson, M. and McCormick, K. (2013) Strategies and policies for the bioeconomy and bio-based economy: An analysis of official national approaches, Sustainability 5: 2751–2769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stern, N. (2010) A blueprint for a safer planet, London: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  58. Tickell, O. (2009) Kyoto2, London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  59. The White House. (2012) National bioeconomy blueprint, Washington DC: The White House.Google Scholar
  60. TNI. (2015) The bioeconomy: A primer, Amsterdam: Transnational Institute.Google Scholar
  61. Truffer, B. and Coenen, L. (2012) Environmental innovation and sustainability transitions in regional studies, Regional Studies 46(1): 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tyfield, D. (2014) Putting the power in ‘socio-technical regimes’ – E-mobility transition in China as political process, Mobilities 9(4): 585–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tyfield, D. (2017) Liberalism 2.0 and the rise of China, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  64. Worldwatch Institute. (2007) Biofuels for transport, London: Earthscan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kean Birch
    • 1
  1. 1.York UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations