Focusing on political ecology's grounded, empirical reading of broader environmental and epistemological claims, we identify two different ways that insights from political ecology can reveal the contemporary relevance of the local scale in critiquing global hydropower infrastructure and its claims to be a part of global decarbonization agendas. Drawing from recent fieldwork in Bolivia and Brazil, we adopt frames of 'plurality'and the 'production of space' to analyze how local-scale dynamics of dam building challenge dominant definitions of sustainable hydropower. With the 'green-ness' of contemporary hydropower based on a narrow, CO2 definition, these insights complicate, challenge and broaden this definition by illuminating how the impacts of this energy infrastructure and power networks contradict claims of 'sustainability' and widen the relevance of respective projects' impacts, in terms of socio-natures and ontologies. We argue that these hydropower projects limit the generative capacity of the local scale, in terms of place-based politics and socio-natures, and remake land- and waterscapes in the image of state and transnational extractive regimes. Together, our analysis opens up new trajectories for political ecology, to question the socio-environmental politics generated and enabled by the reworked environments of green energy production.
Keywords: Energy transitions, Hydropower, Brazil, Bolivia, extractivism, sustainability, political ecology, plurality, uneven development
How to Cite:
Atkins E. & Hope J. C., (2021) “Contemporary political ecologies of hydropower: insights from Bolivia and Brazil”, Journal of Political Ecology 28(1). p.246-265. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.2363
- ESRC Doctoral Studentship 1325180, RGS Environment and Sustainability Grant, Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellowship at the University of Bristol