Latin America in the Anthropocene: Energy Transitions and Climate Change Mitigations
Energy creates both possibilities and liabilities. Plentiful, inexpensive energy has long been a cornerstone of modernist dreams of never-ending expansion. While this may be a fantasy, the truth—at least according to overwhelming scientific evidence—is that our use of fossil fuels has led to distressing global consequences. In May 2013, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the average daily level of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had exceeded 400 parts per million, a density of heat-trapping gases that has not existed for at least three million years, long before humans evolved (Gillis 2013). The Holocenic conditions in which we developed as a species have expired, and the Anthropocene, an epoch defined by the advent of urban-industrial society as a geological force, seems to have taken its place. Human landscape transformation now massively exceeds natural sediment production and ocean acidification and the destruction of biota are the new norm, meaning that evolution itself has been “forced into a new trajectory” (Davis 2010:31). The reality of increased global energy consumption and its concomitant climatological effect has meant that local practices are now universal concerns. In this special issue of the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology each author works within this spirit of currency, recognizing that we—as social subjects, as a species, or as inhabitants of a planet shared with other biotic life—are living in a time of decisions that will echo for centuries to come. In this collection, we examine the complexity of renewable energy transitions in Latin America and we analyze the related processes of its twin (or perhaps its impetus): the policies and projects intended to address global climate change. While anthropological work on petroleum has been important to our better understanding of the social, economic, and environmental consequences of hydrocarbons (Behrends et al. 2011; Breglia 2013; Coroníl 1997; McNeish and Logan 2012; Sawyer 2004), this volume maintains a critical focus on forms of renewable energy and climate mitigation efforts. Our understanding is that, first, “renewable” energy and sustainability are categories that must remain bracketed (in the case of hydroelectric dams, for example) and second, that many renewable energy projects succumb to the habits of hydrocarbon extraction in their financing and production processes if not in their cumulative environmental consequences. The articles collected here are committed to engaging questions of extraction and generation, implementation policies and reactions to them, as well the cultural, social, and scientific intersections of energy, political power, and climatological warming. Ultimately, we ask how it is that the Anthropocene2 is being experienced, negotiated, and remapped in Latin America.