Austin Anthropocene Logo

Cite as:

Adams, James. 2019. “Quotidian Anthropocene: Austin, USA.” In Places, edited by Tim Schütz. In Quotidian Anthropocene, edited by Kim Fortun and Scott Knowles. March. http://disaster-sts-network.org/content/quotidian-anthropocene-austin-usa-collection/essay.

Quotidian Anthropocenes, Shared Questions

The Open Seminar will direct collaborative attention to the many scales and types of systems that interlace and synergize to produce anthropocenics on the ground in particular locales and vernanculars. These questions will guide our engagements.

QUESTIONING QUOTIDIAN ANTHROPOCENES...Read more

About the Quotitidan Anthropocene Project

The Quotidian Anthropocene project explores how the Anthropocene is playing out on the ground in different settings. The aim is to create both...Read more

image of the text "Quotidian Anthropocene" with an incomplete circle around it drawn in red brushstroke

James Adams

Affiliation: University of California, Irvine

Role: Field Campus Instructor

Place: Austin, Texas (USA)

Deutero

Austin's planning structure has a degree of required reflexive learning built into it. Every two years, Austin Energy, the city’s municipally owned utility, forms a Resource Generation Working Group to recommend updates for its Resource Generation Plan. These recommendations are then presented to the Austin City Council for their assessment and approval. This DEUTERO Level essay contains discussions, analyses, critiques, and the developments of Austin's energy resource planning. Such artifacts are intended to help facilitate an assessment of conceptual apparatuses and habits, modes of collectivity and economy that either scaffold (or undercut) reflexive reconsideration of how this site’s energy system is being thought and talked about.

Meta

This META Level essay contains a collection of documents, recordings, transcripts, and images that are intended to capture both the hegemonic and vernacular discourses concerning energy transition in Austin, Texas.

Macro

This MACRO Level essay contains artifacts and information pointing to how Austin's legal structures, economy, and scales of sovereignties have impacted energy transition planning and practice. Austin’s lack of a navigable river, precious metals, fossil fuels, and richly productive farmland have resulted in the city turning to developing its higher education, technology, governmental, and cultural industries. The tech-side has been both a blessing and a curse for Austin’s environmental movement, attracting talent in energy technological innovation from around the world as well as toxic manufacturing facilities that pollute local environments. “Smart Growth” emerged as a prominent economic development rhetoric in the mid-to-late 1990’s and continues to influence Austin’s economic development and environmental governance today.

Meso

This MESO Level essay discusses Austin's wealth of local residents and organizations invested in transitioning to clean-energy resources. Motivations behind these investments differ widely, ranging from concerns about public health and social and environmental justice to creating quality jobs and spurring economic growth. During preliminary fieldwork, I identified four unique-yet-overlapping collectives of clean-energy practitioners: 1) Austin’s public sector, 2) energy data scientists and engineers, 3) energy business advocates and entrepreneurs, and 4) climate and social justice activists. Based upon initial fieldwork, these collectives appear to conceive of the risks, affordances, and the proper sociotechnical means of energy transition in divergent, if not conflicting ways.

Micro

This MICRO Level essay contains artifacts that represent how energy transition research, planning, and practice is being carried out (or resisted) at the quotidian level. Austin’s numerous city-programs—including the Water/Wastewater Department’s Dillo Dirt, Keep Austin Beautiful, Water Conservation, Austin Recycles, Energy Conservation, Public Works, Green Builders, and the Propane Program—have won state and national recognition, contributing to Austin’s international recognition as an environmental leader. Pecan Street Inc. established a microgrid and enlisted numerous volunteers in the Mueller Community to participate as a test-lab for piloting new energy technologies and producing the largest real-time dataport on energy consumption in the world. Local environmental organizations have a rich diversity of strategies concerning how to organize and mobilize the Austin community to apply political pressure on government and industry, and best enable a rapid transition to clean energy.

BIO

There is a strong correlation between the location of toxic development and manufacturing associated with Austin’s energy and tech industry and the location of communities of color, both of which are predominantly found in East Austin. Historically, local environmental justice organizations like PODER and ATXEJ have had appreciable success in combating these developments and enlisting the help of Austin’s liberal, environmental elite to do so. The City of Austin, as well as many local environmental organizations are currently trying to develop new approaches to environmentalism that not only acknowledge, but place the staggering racial and economic inequality in the city at the forefront of their concerns. This BIO Level essay contains artifacts that document how bodies are differentially laced and burdened with the costs of Austin's current energy system and/or practices of energy transition.

NANO

Much of the local debate on energy transition in Austin consists of differences in opinion over what qualifies as a responsible energy-transition plan and timeline. People are motivated and oriented by different kinds of data and knowledge claims, which can undermine practical and cooperative work.This NANO Level essay contains artifacts that index the thought styles, semiotic ideologies and phenomenologies that are in play in imagining Austin’s energy transition.

Exdu

This EXDU Leve essay contains documents, interviews, discussions, and presentations concerning energy transition that are carried out by various experts with diverse modes of expertise. A close examination of the training and implementation of certain data practices may expose biases, disavowals, and other methods of gatekeeping. It will be important to observe how different groups deal with dissenting opinions within educational spaces or during educational programs. Consensus is often thought of as the gold standard of moving forward on an issue democratically, and yet scholars have shown that emphasizing consensus is often a mechanism for disavowal (Fortun 2009). This is all the more important when discussing controversial topics like climate change, or relatively complex endeavors like developing a plan for transitioning to clean energy.

DATA

This DATA Level essay aims to gather resources to test if and how data practices, cultures, and infrastructures (buttressed by semiotic ideologies) shape inter-collective initiatives to address complex sociotechnical challenges.

Techno

Austin is a prominent site of energy technology innovation. Austin Technology incubator has a strong energy focus, providing “niche management” of emerging energy technologies. Pecan Street provides a means for incubated technologies to test and verify their innovations. This TECHNO Level essay focuses on the type and location of Austin's current, proposed, and former energy infrastructure, what energy technologies are currently being researched and developed, and how the issues associated with climate change and energy systems are differentially understood to be solvable through technology.

ECO-ATMO

In light of the unprecedented frequency and intensity of recent heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, and flash floods, Austin, Texas has joined a growing list of cities across the US committing to energy transition as a means of climate change mitigation. This ECO-ATMO Level essay contains artifacts that document how people are experiencing and understanding these changes and if, how, and to what degree this is motivating practices and forms of organization to transition to clean energy as a means of mitigating and adapting to a changing climate.

GEO

Much of the history of Austin's environmentalist fervor, as well as the keys to its successes, were rooted in concern for the preservation of the landscape's natural beauty. This beauty is due in part to the fact that Austin is located at a nexus of different geological formations, which supply the city and its surrounding areas with rich and diverse landscapes, flora, and fauna. This GEO Level essay contains artifacts that help facilitate an understanding of how the character of this landscape has been marred by Austin's energy practices, as well as how people have and are organizing to halt, adapt, and/or remediate these damages.