Paper Session: Biofuels, Bioenergy and the Emerging Bio-Economy
Kean Birch (York University, Canada)
Kirby Calvert (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Peter Kedron (Ryerson University, Canada)
Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen (SUNY-Buffalo, USA)
Jennifer Baka (LSE, UK)
The ‘bio-economy’ represents a socio-ecological system in which biological material (e.g. plants) replaces fossil fuels as the underpinning natural resource base for our societies and economies. The bio-economy includes new forms of energy (e.g. biofuels), new intermediate inputs (e.g. biochemicals) and new products (e.g. bioplastics). According to governments, policy-makers and others promoting the bio-economy, it represents an important sustainable transition pathway based on the renewable qualities of ecological systems and the fact it does not compromise the longevity of current ecosystem services.
At first glance then, the bio-economy promises a win-win solution to ecological, economic and societal challenges, even if it does necessitate the widespread geographical reorganization of agriculture, natural resource management, energy production and distribution, transport, innovation, manufacturing and consumption. However, critics of the bio-economy have noted a number of socially and environmentally regressive outcomes. These include: (a) large-scale (direct and indirect) land-use changes and possible carbon debts; (b) the readiness of technologies and infrastructures to form the foundation of a bio-economy; and, (c) rising incidences of land-grabbing that threaten prevailing livelihood strategies of already marginalized populations.
Critical voices argue that the emerging bio-economy is being advanced as part of broader neoliberal visions, market-based mechanisms, and industrial policy instruments which construct nature and natural resources in certain ways (e.g. abundant and free, eco-efficient and renewable, etc.). Critics contend that what we need are community-based transition pathways leading to more localized socio-ecological transformations. At the same time, some proponents of the bio-economy question the capability of biomass stocks to provide the material required for large-scale conversion to bioenergy and biofuels, and call instead for biomass to be processed into lower volume but higher value ‘green’ chemicals and other products. We have to recognize that there are trade-offs whichever pathway is chosen, and that these trade-offs are geographically diverse and varied. This necessitates rigorous analytical and empirical work drawing in researchers from an array of sub-fields in geography (e.g. agriculture, resource, energy, economic, social) and from other disciplines (e.g. political economy, science and technology studies, critical business studies, sociology, etc.).
The purpose of this paper session is to explore these issues from whichever perspective. We have suggested several possible topics and questions below, but these are intended as inspiration rather than limits. We invite contributions from all corners of the discipline and beyond.
Visions of the Bio-economy:
- How and with what effect is space (scale, nature, ecology) politicized in the construction and negotiation of the bio-economy?
- How are hybrid environmental-industrial policies used to promote the bio-economy as a technological fix for climate change and a vehicle for low-carbon growth?
- What are the links between the bio-economy and other socio-political spatial strategies and transformations (e.g., the post-staples economic transition; landscape conservatism; neo-liberalism; urbanization)?
- What are the factors shaping the spatial dispersion or concentration of bioenergy, biofuels and the bio-economy?
- How are regional clusters of expertise converging / diverging as they pursue innovations necessary for bioenergy and biofuels?
- What are the path-dependent, path-breaking and path-shaping characteristics of biofuels, bioenergy and other biotechnologies?
- What do bioenergy and biofuels landscapes look like, where are they emerging, what are their impacts?
- How might new technologies and new policies re-configure energy landscapes generally, and bioenergy landscapes in particular?
- Under what conditions, if any, is the bio-economy sustainable?
- How do these bioenergy and biofuels landscapes compare with other renewable energy landscapes?
If you would like to participate in the session, please submit an abstract (250 words max) by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by 17 October 2014.
People wanting to participate in other ways (e.g. discussant) please feel free to contact us as well.