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Sustainable energy production in post-oil landscapes

Jean-Pierre Thibault
Inspector General. General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development (France) and member of Collectif Paysages de l'après-pétrole

During the centuries of the pre-oil era, energy production could be seen everywhere : windmills on every hill, watermills across all the rivers…

Then came the oil era when energy production became centralized in a tiny number of carbon, fuel and nuclear power-plants. Energy production had become globally invisible !

Then came the oil era landscape with its numerous motorways, skyscrapers, spreading cities and chemistry-based agricultural fields, with its non-mechanisable abandonned countrysides, continually shrinking forests, chaotic suburbs… and, underneath it, dramatic decline of biodiversity and threatening climate change.

Five years ago, the Paris Agreement symbolized a planetary awareness of the necessity of a turning point : energy had to be saved in building houses, individual traffic strongly reduced, and electricity produced from renewable sources.

As a direct result of those positive resolutions, windturbines, solar power and biogas plants were expected to grow and multiply at a large scale. But for a population whose living environment was perceived as downgraded or spoiled by the already accumulated items during oil era, in total lack of order or logic, that often meant the last straw that breaks the camel's back.  The re-appearance of energy production in the chaotic field of the « oil landscape » was unbearable.

From now on, « landscape struggles » emerge as major constraints to the necessary energetic transition.

How can we overcome this highly understandable barrier ? Exactly by using the landscape approach itself. This could be done in three steps.

1- Any renewable energy plant should be set up within the frame of a global territorial energetic strategy including energy savings, energy efficiency, and the best renewable energy mix designated from the territorial potentials such as wind, sun, geothermia or biogas. All those choices must be treated as a whole and not as separated technical processes. Landscape approach means linkage between apparently dissociate matters...

2- This global territorial strategy should be established throughout a participative  process of local stakeholders or inhabitants. So, the strategy will be founded on the accurate knowledge of history and geography of the territory by its very actors. It will also generate an active mobilisation for the success of collectively decided energetic or climate goals. Landscape approach is participatory in nature…

3- Within this strategy, the location of the elements of the energy mix itself should be determined from the analysis of the existing landscape structures, including geographical key-features, and the logics of previous human settlements. Neither windturbines (high and moving) nor solar plants (shining) can be efficiently concealed to the view. So the landcape approach will have to organise the dialog so that those new eye-catching elements could be if not an extra aesthetic factor, at least a harmonious addition to the (litterally speaking) « post-oil landscape » !


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