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Cultures of Energy

Cultures of Energy brings writers, artists and scholars together to talk, think and feel their way into the Anthropocene. We cover serious issues like climate change, species extinction and energy transition. But we also try to confront seemingly huge and insurmountable problems with insight, creativity and laughter. We believe in the possibility of personal and cultural change. And we believe that the arts and humanities can help guide us toward a more sustainable future. Cultures of Energy is a Mingomena Media production. Co-hosts are @DominicBoyer and @CymeneHowe
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May 24, 2024

Cymene and Dominic recap last week’s Petrocultures Los Angeles conference and discuss the new climate lawsuit filed in France seeking to press criminal charges against the CEO and directors of the French oil major TotalEnergies. Then (15:27) we welcome the brilliant and megatalented Rania Ghosn to the podcast. We start with the work of Design Earth, Rania’s practice together with El Hadi Jazairy and how the collaboration began. Rania explains how Design Earth seeks to explore how design can help respond to the climate crisis and why they tend to work in a narrative or speculative mode. We discuss their strategies for cultivating what she calls “geostories” at the intersection of art, science and design. From there we move to talking about what energy means in the context of design, how the ruins of carbon modernity will haunt urbanism and landscapes for many years to come, speculative ecofeminist storytelling, and the art of making exquisite corpses. We close talking about what it means to inherit the world in all its crisis and how to learn to live in a time of collapse.

Apr 27, 2024

Dominic and Cymene react to the police violence sweeping across US university campuses. Then (15:11) we are thrilled to welcome CNN’s Chief Climate Correspondent, Bill Weir, to the podcast. We begin with the big news of the day—the landmark legal ruling by the European court of human rights that Switzerland had violated the human rights of more than 2,000 older Swiss women by failing to cut its national greenhouse gas emissions. Then, we dive into Bill’s great new book, Life as We Know It (Can Be): Stories of People, Climate, and Hope in a Changing World (Chronicle Books 2024). We talk about how to balance nightmares and dreams in climate storytelling, techniques for building effective story arcs, the five stages of climate grief, and disrupting the idea that consumption leads to happiness. Bill explains the ideas of protopia and YIMBYism to us and emphasizes the need to act locally and with humility as he shares with us some of the more encouraging stories he’s encountered in his travels as a reporter. We close by discussing what Bill thinks has changed in terms of news coverage of climate change during the course of his long and storied career. Please listen and share!!

Mar 17, 2024

Cymene tries to convince Dominic to join the Freemasons on this episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast. Plus, a shallow dive into Buzkashi, the national sport of Tajikistan, the country that helped convince the UN to designate 2025 the International Year of Glaciers’ Preservation. Then (13:22) we are thrilled to welcome Siddharth Sareen from U Stavanger, author of The Sun Also Rises in Portugal (Bristol U Press, 2024) and the winner of this year’s Nils Klim Prize in Norway (go Sid!) We start with how Sid’s interests in energy research shifted from India to Portugal, an underappreciated star in solarity. We talk about the struggle between large scale solar and community solar in the context of aspirations toward a just energy transition. We discuss the environmental impact of solar and how it can be improved, and Sid explains why standards matter as solar becomes a more mature industry and how standards of commoning could help to constitute a better future for solar power. Finally, we discuss the need to pursue prefigurative politics as way of bringing more energy utopias into the world and allowing them to flourish.

Feb 29, 2024

Cymene accounts for her mysterious conversion from a coffee-drinker to a tea-drinker but [spoiler alert] it turns out she’s not a doppelganger after all. Then after some EV road trip talk (16:06) we are delighted to have Cristián Simonetti join us from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. We start with Cris’s research on concrete, one of the most abundant contemporary materials, and what it reveals about the course of the Anthropocene trajectory. From there we talk about the debate over the Anthropocene designation and how stratigraphers tend to petrify earth processes by valuing solids over fluids. From there we move to talking about ice and his interest in the viscosity of glaciers and soil. We circle back to concrete and how the Romans conceived of it as a solid fluid and as a conversation between the elements. Finally, we talk about the special role glaciers have played in the Chilean Anthropocene. Glaciers move like ketchup? Concrete is a colloid? For those and further revelations, please listen on!

Feb 6, 2024

Cymene arrives at the Covid party on this week’s episode and she’s got the sultry radio voice to prove it. We share a few words about a magnificent pug named Doug and Cymene discovers  Russell Brand’s rightward "grift drift" to her horror. Then (18:58) we welcome Laurie Parsons to the podcast to talk about his excellent new book, Carbon Colonialism (Manchester U Press, 2023), which originated from his long-term research on the Cambodian garment industry. Laurie explains how when it comes to climate change we’re really not all in it together: carbon colonialism creates northern resource feasts and luxury at the expense of great climate and social vulnerability in the Global South. From this discussion of the deep inequalities in climate impacts, we move to the way the COP process has been perverted in recent years, the contested landscape of climate resilience, the low profitability of extraction, ignorance as green capital, and whether there is a pathway toward a non-extractive global economy. Laurie explains to us his skepticism about the idea of sustainable consumption and his feeling that we’ve entered the age of environmental sophistry. Finally, we discuss six myths that Laurie has identified that help to keep carbon colonialism going. Enjoy!

Jan 24, 2024

The Cultures of Energy podcast is back with the first of several new episodes for 2024. First, Cymene and Dominic share what they've learned from their very late arrival to watching the show Survivor and why Shadow, their 75% chihuahua, has never worked a day in her life and proudly so. Then (11:40) the main part of this week's episode is a conversation between Dominic and Cara Daggett (https://www.caranewdaggett.com) about his latest book No More Fossils (online Open Access edition here: https://manifold.umn.edu/projects/no-more-fossils. Many thanks to Maggie Sattler from U Minnesota Press for organizing the conversation and for a wonderful job of producing and editing the interview. Next episode coming soon: a report on a cross-country electric adventure and a conversation with Laurie Parsons about his new book Carbon Colonialism.

Apr 27, 2023

Dominic and Cymene start off with a review of the new Apple TV Cli-Fi series Extrapolations especially its killer walruses and then recap a chat with German climate activist Luisa Neubauer and former US National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy about how civilizational change is coming, either by design or by disaster. Then [23:51] we are thrilled to have USC’s Christina Dunbar-Hester join us on the podcast to talk about her new book Oil Beach (U Chicago Press, 2023), a study of toxic infrastructure and more-than-human relations in the Los Angeles port complex. We begin with how her interests in media became interests in energy and climate and how underneath silicon there is petroleum. Then, we turn to the challenges of seeing organismic life under the “lethal sublime” of petro/military/industrial infrastructure and to Christina’s concept of “infrastructural vitalism.” We ask: What if pipelines carried water instead of oil? How much of LA’s “green port” mythology is real? We close talking about what Christina means by trans-species supply chain justice” and how one of the LA ports’ greatest products is the making of scale itself. Enjoy, dear listeners, and remember that walruses will save us from all the evil villains of the Anthropocene.

Jan 19, 2023

Cymene and Dominic natter a bit about holiday misadventures and then (13:49) happily welcome Mike Degani (Cambridge U) to the podcast to talk about his new book, The City Electric (Duke UP 2022). We begin with how Mike became interested in electricity as an ethnographic object through experiencing power failures in Dar es Salaam. Then we talk about how electropolitics threads through various key moments in Tanzanian history. We turn to Tanzanian postsocialism, the durability of socialist habitus and how Mike’s concept of modal reasoning connects to the moral quandaries of neoliberal transition as well as to European and African conceptions of parasites. We move from there to illegal connections and pirate electricity, electricity as a mode of state intimacy, the electrified sensorium of the city, and northern fantasies of energy without consequences. We close on why getting infrastructure right is key to surviving the Anthropocene. Listen and enjoy!!

Nov 8, 2022

Cymene and Dominic relate tales from their harrowing weekend of having to deal with the absence of Henry Rollins in Black Flag and the presence of an active shooter down the block. Then (15:35) we welcome Harvard’s own Victor Seow to the podcast to discuss his remarkable book, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (U Chicago Press, 2022). We start with how studying labor migration in Manchuria first led him to the largest open coal mine in Asia, Fushun—now a pit with three times  the excavated material of the Panama Canal—whose story became the crux of the book. We talk about Victor’s engagement with Tim Mitchell’s concept of “carbon democracy” and how some of Mitchell’s ideas about energy and politics were anticipated by Japanese administrators during their occupation of Manchuria. That gets us to chatting about the mechanization and automation of coal mining as a technopolitical responses aimed at managing potentially unruly coal miners. We cover the rise of petropolitics in the coal belt and the idea that coal could be made to serve the purposes of oil. We discuss the enduring allure of technocracy today as well as Victor’s observation that technocracies seldom achieve what they set out to achieve. What is a world in a mine? Is there such a thing as carbomelancholia among coal miners? Why does modern energy fear scarcity? These questions answered and more on today’s episode!

Sep 13, 2022

Cymene and Dominic talk about hauling ice, champagne socialism and the mystery of Viennetta cakes on this week’s intro. Then (16:07) we are joined by Troy Vettese, an environmental historian, and Drew Pendergrass, an environmental engineer, to talk about their bold and imaginative new book, Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics (Verso 2022, https://www.versobooks.com/books/3818-hal). We begin with the value of thinking in impractical ways and how utopian socialists past like Edward Bellamy, William Morris and Otto Neurath inspired this project. We discuss how high growth expectations have bedeviled planning in the past and talk about the flaws in the utopia of automated luxury socialism. Is capitalism an inherently irrational system? Does planning have irrational tendencies too? We cover where the idea to make a game version of the book came from (https://play.half.earth). We move from there to what the Left could stand to learn from the tactics of the neoliberal revolution, the necessity of utopian imagination for mass organizing, how intellectuals underestimate the readiness of the working class for change and much, much, more. Also please check out Drew and Troy’s Noema essay based on the book at: https://www.noemamag.com/planning-an-eco-socialist-utopia/

Jul 19, 2022

Dominic and Cymene begin this week’s episode with a medley of Hawaiian experiences, everything from 25-foot waves to energy utopias to whether watching Sharknado can actually help someone overcome fear of sharks. Then, we welcome to the podcast the brilliant Dr. Daphina Misiedjan from Erasmus University Rotterdam (https://www.eur.nl/en/people/daphina-misiedjan) to help us better understand the evolving legal and cultural debates concerning Rights of Nature. Daphina surveys the places around the world where Rights of Nature has become an active political discussion, beginning with Ecuador and its pathbreaking constitutional recognition of Pachamama. We talk about the challenges Rights of Nature interventions face in overcoming European colonial law and legal principles like terra nullius that naturalize extractivist and individualistic property relations. We compare Rights of Nature movements to Universal Human Rights movements and discuss where rights meet obligations. We turn from there to Daphina’s research on Yemen, the first country projected to run out of drinking water. We talk about the ethical questions raised by endemic water shortages in places like Yemen, South Africa and California. We close on Daphina’s current work on climate justice in the Dutch Caribbean, where colonialism and climate change are intersecting in an increasingly troubling way. Enjoy!!  P.S. Here's a teaser for our next episode: https://play.half.earth

Jun 26, 2022

Dominic and Cymene share first impressions of Honolulu and query why there are chickens everywhere. Then (16:50) we are thrilled to welcome economist Timothée Parrique (https://timotheeparrique.com @timparrique) to the podcast to bring us up to speed with the latest news from ecological economics and its signature degrowth paradigm. We start with the basics. There’s more talk about degrowth now than ever before. But what are degrowth proponents really advocating? Timothée explains how degrowth is not meant to deprive poorer countries of prosperity, it’s best understood as a diet for countries already overshooting the world’s ecological carrying capacity. We talk about the problems with the “green growth” paradigm and how it usually just moves pollution around the planet despite the existence of a few decoupling unicorns. With the IPCC report mentioning degrowth for the first time in a recent report, is degrowth ready for the mainstream? What can the pandemic teach us about degrowth and the effort to distinguish the more and less essential parts of the economy” We talk about how the world can no longer afford the profligate emissions of the super-rich. And, finally, we discuss the cooperative economy movement and how it is already helping to create the better world that degrowth imagines.

Apr 20, 2022

Cymene and Dominic talk about flying chihuahuas and playground chamomile in this week’s intro. Then (12:26), we welcome Cornell’s Sarah Besky (http://www.sarahbesky.com/index.html) to the podcast to talk about her latest book Tasting Qualities: The Past and Future of Tea (U California Press, 2020). We start with how and why Sarah first became interested in tea. From there we move on to the relationship between quality, distinction and standardization in Indian tea making. How did the experience of British colonialism shape the experiential qualities of tea? Has the digitization of tea auctions reinforced or disrupted those colonial trends? Sarah explains plantation sickness to us and why is it spreading. We talk about tea jitters and the chemical life of tea and why Sarah thinks about tea as a tentacular form. We close by discussing climate change and how it is impacting the Indian tea industry from monsoons to landslides. Enjoy!

Mar 30, 2022

Cymene and Dominic begin with a speculative analysis of malfunctional laptops. Then (11:32) we welcome the brilliant landscape architect Dilip da Cunha to the podcast to talk about his longstanding collaborative work with Anuradha Mathur on wetness, rivers, monsoons, estuaries and so much more (https://www.mathurdacunha.com). Dilip explains how it was the Mississippi landscape that first got them thinking about rivers and how the representation of rivers impacts design. He encourages us to think wetness beyond the divide of land and water (and about rivers as the colonization of rain for the purposes of development). We move from there to how geometry precedes geography and the ancient roots of our terrestrial centrism. We discuss the supposed islandness of Mumbai and why Dilip and Anu think that Mumbai would be better described as an estuary in the monsoon. Dilip challenges the current “living with water” paradigm of imagining coastal communities in an era of sea level rise and explains why he thinks living creatively and agilely between clouds and aquifers might the better way of conceiving our wet future. We close on estuarian thinking and the need to develop a conceptual language beyond fair weather landscapes. This episode of Cultures of Energy is dedicated to the memory of Anuradha Mathur who passed away in the weeks between the recording of our conversation and its broadcasting.

Mar 10, 2022

Dominic and Cymene share a close encounter with a phantom raccoon and offer two ideas for sure-to-succeed new TV shows. Then (12:17) we are thrilled to welcome Gail Simmons—star judge of Bravo’s Emmy and James Beard-award winning show Top Chef as well as a food writer and culinary expert—to the show. We get started with how Gail‘s background in anthropology influenced her career. Speaking of cultures and cuisine, we ask whether non-western cuisines finally receiving the recognition and respect they are due from the world of fine dining. Do standards of taste still bear the imprint of colonial legacies? We talk food justice and insecurity and what is problematic about the concept of “food desert” as a way of talking about what might be better called “food apartheid.” We touch on the impact of climate change on the culinary industry and the stigma vegetarians still face in some restaurants. We close on why Top Chef finally decided to come to Houston, the most diverse city in America and what surprised and delighted Gail once she arrived. You can find this season’s run of Top Chef at: https://www.bravotv.com/top-chef Enjoy!

Mar 2, 2022

 

Cymene and Dominic talk war, sunglasses and unexpected colors and then (10:27) we pivot to the main event, a discussion of intersectional ecologies featuring three brilliant minds: Bridget Guarasci (https://www.fandm.edu/bridget-guarasci), Amelia Moore (https://web.uri.edu/maf/meet/amelia-moore-2/) and Sarah Vaughn (https://anthropology.berkeley.edu/sarah-e-vaughn). We start with their 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology article, “Intersectional Ecologies: Reimagining Anthropology and Environment” and talk about how their reading group became a writing group. We discuss how environmental anthropology has evolved over time and its need to diversify its citational practices. What are the environmental stories that need to be told in our troubled times? Turning toward their individual research projects, we talk about how those projects have been influenced by their intersectional ecologies collaboration. We hear about alternative histories of Block Island, mining and trans-Mediterranean mobility, and the role of Bermudian insurance companies in place creation and in shaping knowledge of climate change. We close talking about collaboration, how it has become a part of their practice, and how audit culture needs to accept collaboration as a new standard.

Feb 23, 2022
A potpourri of hot topix leads off this week’s episode: ASMR, Super Twosday, Ukraine, Bitcoin, and the correct pronunciation of Lindsey Lohan’s name. Then (17:36) we are so very thrilled to welcome Beth Povinelli back to the pod to discuss her latest book, The Inheritance (Duke UP 2021), a graphic memoir that plumbs the messy relationships among nationality, ethnicity, kinship, religion, and belonging. We talk about the dual origin stories of the project, both on a beach in Belyuen and in response to the recent rise of heritage (DNA) capitalism and surging white supremacism in the United States. We discuss the challenge of finding one’s way back to childhood and the fracturing that lies at the core of all identity claims. Beth explains how her experiences in Belyuen made her reconsider everything about her own home. We talk about how no two dispossessions are the same, the absorptive politics of whiteness for European immigrants, structures of care and disregard, and the cunning of the law of the father in families and settler society. At the end, we talk about how The Inheritance relates to her work with the Karrabing Film Collective, which work to intervene in settler narratives without being tied to settler literacy. Watch out for the film version of The Inheritance and check out Karrabing Film Collective works at https://www.kunststrom.com/karrabing-film-collective-en.html and https://www.madrenapoli.it/en/exhibition/rethinking-nature/. Outro music courtesy of Beth’s talented sister, Sharon. Thanks, Sharon!
Feb 17, 2022

Cymene and Dominic discuss extraterrestrial lavatology, evil corporate accounting software, skyfarms and chinchillas on this week’s intro. Then (14:15) we are so delighted to welcome David Farrier (U Edinburgh) to the podcast to discuss his justly acclaimed latest book, Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils (FSG, 2020). David talks about how the Anthropocene has distorted our sense of time and new relations with deep time inspired him to wonder about what humanity’s material legacy will look like far in the future. Whose material legacy is that exactly? Who might discover our future fossils? How do we decenter the human without indulging in extinction fantasies? What could story and myth do to protect future beings against some of the more toxic colonial legacies that are being left behind? What are the implications of the current colonization of the future and how can we become better ancestors? Finally, we talk about walking in the forest as a literary practice. Enjoy!

Feb 10, 2022

Cymene and Dominic talk about the vine that’s taking over their house and then (12:30) we welcome the New School’s magnificent Shannon Mattern to the podcast We discuss her new book A City is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences (Princeton UP, 2021) which explores the limits of computational models for understanding knowledge in urban contexts. We begin with the deep history of urban intelligence and the role of cybernetics in offering computation as a universal analogy. We talk about other venerable tropes too, like the city as graft and the city as tree. We cover the limits of datafication to understand urban life. Does Shannon have a perfect urban dashboard model in mind? How much is big tech driving dashboardization and how much the charisma of universal representations? We talk failure and function, access as a tech panacea, smart cities, the politics of shade, libraries and kindred examples of “other urban intelligences.” Finally, we turn to the magic of Shannon’s Twitter work and how it informs her teaching. Enjoy!

Feb 2, 2022

Aaaaand we’re back! Cymene and Dominic start off with their usual nonsense, which culminates in a lively discussion of the missile silo now listed on the real estate site Zillow (we were wrong on some of the specs btw, it’s in Abilene, Kansas and only $380,000, survivalist bargain hunters can find all the deets here: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2432-Fair-Rd-Abilene-KS-67410/113177058_zpid/?utm_source=zillowgonewild&utm_medium=zillowgonewild&utm_campaign=zillowgonewild)  Then (15:31) we welcome our marvelous guest, Arturo Escobar. We start by discussing Arturo’s latest book Pluriversal Politics (Duke UP, 2020) and how the concept of pluriverse—a world where many worlds fit—emerged from an effort to understand emergence in a time of emergency. We talk about how the contemporary crisis is a crisis of a particular civilizational model and about the need to re/turn to an awareness of radical interdependence and possibility. Can Left politics overcome its reliance on the figure of “the enemy” and deal with its fear of the end of modernity so as to make its politics more pluriversal? What is radical social change? Why have the pathologies of isolation have proven to be worse than the pathologies of connection? We discuss Arturo’s interest in design alongside philosophy and anthropology and what it would mean to shift from an ontology of development to one of care. Arturo closes by gifting us an everyday exercise to help foster greater relational awareness. See you next week!

Oct 24, 2019

Wow, we made it to 200 episodes and 250k downloads this week. Thank you everyone for listening for the past nearly four years.  It also seems like a good milestone for a change of pace. Your tireless cohosts need to take an extended break from weekly podcasting in order to commit ourselves more fully to a couple of other creative opportunities that have emerged during our time away from Rice. But please know that Cultures of Energy has been a project that brought us much joy (and helped us to meet so many amazing people!) It also helped to keep us sane through some dark times. And the kind words many of you have sent our way over the years have meant the world to us. Go you!! The channel will stay active for the foreseeable future in case you’d like to access the back catalog for listening or teaching purposes. And it's very likely that we’ll upload new episodes and content from time to time connected with special events. But for now please just enjoy our conversation with someone who has long been on our wish list, Laura Nader, a founding mother of the field of energy humanities. We speak to her about how her scholarship and activism became entangled with energy over the years, starting with her experience as the only anthropologist (and only woman!) on the US Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems during the Carter presidency. Super big thanks to Daena Funahashi for her work behind the scenes to make this episode possible!

 

Oct 17, 2019

Your co-hosts talk clonal trees and dispense important advice about relationships, breakups, and having “the conversation” with your children on this week’s podcast. Then (17:16) we talk to Brown University’s Bathsheba Demuth (http://www.brdemuth.com) about her new book Floating Coast (https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393635164) a beautifully conceived and written environmental history of the Bering Strait from the 18ththrough the 20thcenturies. We start with how American and Soviet modernist projects differentially impacted Beringia during the 20thcentury and why the oceanic productivity of the Arctic attuned her to the energy transformations that then became a powerful red thread throughout the book. We turn from there to the temporality of whales, baleen as infrastructure and path dependency, Soviet vs. American conceptualizations of progress, the place of indigenous memories and knowledge in her historical methodology, and much much more.

Oct 10, 2019

Dominic and Cymene discuss Swiss silence and whether soup can be a meal on this week’s podcast. Then (13:53) we sit down with Christoph Rosol and Tom Turnbull, two of the organizers of the baroque and fascinating project of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (https://www.hkw.de/de/index.php) and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (https://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de), Mississippi: An Anthropocene River. Christoph and Tom talk with us about this project evolved out of the celebrated Anthropocene Curriculum and Anthropocene Campus series. We discuss what the research and artistic activities are that are associated with the project’s five field stations, exploring themes such as deindustrialization, land restoration, indigenous-settler politics, invasive species, and ecocide. We talk about issues of scale and the search for the most apt critical zones through which to engage Anthropocene processes, the Mississippi as canal instead of river, and close with the little known history of the Mississippi Valley Committee and the idea that watersheds could form the basis of new kind of democracy. Find out more information on the Mississippi project at https://anthropocene-curriculum.org

Oct 1, 2019

In this week's special guest episode, Leah Stokes (UC Santa Barbara) and Bina Venkataraman take over the Cultures of Energy podcast to discuss Bina's new book, The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780735219472?aff=penguinrandom). This interview is part of the Twitter discussion, #climatebookclub, which is an informal group that Leah runs to get people to talk about climate books on Twitter. We will be discussing the book on Twitter on Wednesday Oct 2 at 5:30 EST / 2:30 PST so feel free to look up the #climatebookclub hashtag and join in the conversation!

To learn more about Bina's writing: http://writerbina.com

To learn more about Leah's research: http://leahstokes.com

Sep 26, 2019

Cymene and Dominic wonder whether Brexit or Impeachment will make for better political theater in the months ahead. Then (14:22) we talk to three wonderful folks who are in the process of assembling the Routledge Handbook of Energy Democracy, an interdisciplinary gathering of contributions spanning scholarly and activist engagements. Our three guests are Danielle Endres (https://www.danielleendres.com), Andrea Feldpausch-Parker (https://andreafeldpausch-parker.weebly.com) and Tarla Peterson  (https://www.utep.edu/liberalarts/communication/people/faculty/faculty-pages/tarla-peterson.html). We talk about the distinctive forms that the energy democracy movement is taking both inside and outside the academy, some of the projects that inspire them, strategies for making energy systems more visible and open to citizen intervention, whether renewable energy can renew democracy, the danger of participation fatigue, and much much more!

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