The People versus the Pipelines:
Energy Infrastructure and Liberal Ideology in American Environmentalism
2019. "“They're treating us like Indians!”: Political Ecologies of Property and Race in North American Pipeline Populism" Antipode. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/anti.12426
While political ecologists have analysed the role of private property in creating and sustaining ecological inequalities, this approach does not often take property as a foundational element of racial capitalism. I argue that the defence of private property in contestation of North American oil pipelines demonstrates the centrality of property not only to the structural reproduction of capital, but also to its Euro‐American subject. Emphasising their affective attachments to land and resentment at dispossession, landowners and populist environmental organisations in the Great Plains frequently compared individual, white experiences of eminent domain to the historic and ongoing dispossession of Native Nations by suggesting “they're treating us like Indians”. In order to account for the reproduction of white supremacy in environmentalism, I argue that we must understand how its oppositional politics are linked to economic interests‐in‐land and affective desires‐for‐land that maintain landed private property.
2019. "The People Know Best: Situating the Counterexpertise of Populist Pipeline Opposition Movements." Annals of the American Association of Geographers. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24694452.2018.1494538
Critical scholarship suggests that environmental populism is either an expression of radical democracy beyond the paternalistic liberalism of mainstream environmentalism or that it is paranoid, irrational, and merely reactive to elite technocratic governance. Because both frameworks take populism to instrumentalize knowledge production, they miss how practices of counterexpertise might condition the emergence of left-populist oppositional identities. I argue that counterexpertise emerges as a political activity not by producing an alternative epistemology but as a minor science that contests science from within and in the process shapes left-populist political coalitions. This is illustrated through research on populist responses to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines in the Great Plains region of North America, where environmentalists, landowners, and grassroots organizers sought to position themselves as experts. Through public participation in environmental review, pipeline mapping projects, and construction monitoring, environmental populists created an educational campaign concerning topics as diverse as hydrology, economics, and archaeology. Developing counterexpertise not only contested the evidence produced by oil infrastructure firms and the state but also consolidated the oppositional identity of “the people.” By examining populist knowledge production within the broader field of contentious politics, I argue that we can better understand it as neither an irrational reaction nor transparently democratic but as part of a processual production of identities of resentment and resistance. One implication is that climate change denial and disinformation spread by the oil industry might be challenged by resituating science for political ends rather than renewing neutral objectivity.
2018. The People versus the Pipelines: Energy Infrastructure and Liberal Ideology in American Environmentalism. PhD dissertation.
Contestation of the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines gathered in resistance a coalition of progressives, farmers and ranchers, environmentalists, and Native Nations. While these groups appear united in opposition to the pipeline, the principles and strategies of the grassroots at stake in this emergent environmental movement have been more heavily contested than recognized by existing literatures. While long-standing rifts certainly still exist between mainstream liberal environmental organizations and radical movements for environmental justice, I argue that the ideological field of contemporary environmentalism cannot be fully understood without taking into account the emergence of environmental populism. Populism is the ideology and political formation that takes “the people” as the principle and proper political actor. A mass movement of the people is positioned in opposition to corporations, corrupt institutions, and elites, all of whom trample upon their rights to participate and decide environmental futures. How does pipeline populism, as a collective social phenomenon, emerge from and transform contemporary ideologies of environmental politics? What consequences does it have for the political nexus of global climate chaos, racial capitalism, and ongoing settler colonialism? If we are right to think that only through people’s movements can we adequately and democratically address global climate change, scholars and activists alike must understand the underlying tensions in the desires and ideologies of what is meant to be “the people’s climate movement.”
The People versus the Pipelines: Energy Infrastructure and Grassroots Ideology in North American Environmentalism addresses these questions by examining the internal tensions within populist ideologies in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Iowa. Intervening in interdisciplinary environmental scholarship and political theories concerning the relationships among ideology and desire in populist politics, this project develops a conceptual and methodological framework that understands environmental populism as emerging from resentment towards dispossession, democratic public participation, and expert knowledges. Through interviews, participant observation, and cultural and media analysis, I demonstrate how environmentalist practices are shifting from appeals to state institutions toward a movement of the people. I argue that while environmental populism attempts to take leave of elitism, its aspirations to ground property, democracy, and expertise emerge from liberal affective infrastructures and congeal into a political activism that can reproduce Euro-American, settler colonial, and nationalist tropes.
This research intervenes in interdisciplinary debates in environmental studies, political ecology, and political theory by questioning the role of environmentalism in sustaining a politics of exclusion through a left-populist ideology. I take up the complex problem of race and legacies of colonialism in movements against fossil fuels to demonstrate the sustained manner in which confronting structures of oppression elides liberal social justice movements. In making this argument, I show that the persistence of race and settler colonialism is not merely an effect of culture, history, or the state, but is also embedded in the liberal structures of contestation frequently upheld by political ecologists, including public participation, landed private property, and local and regional grassroots political formations. This research has implications for scholars and activists interested in contemporary environmental and climate justice, for political theories and public discourse on populism, and for those concerned with the intersection of race and settler colonialism in environmental politics.
"The Dakota Access Pipeline" on the Miami Rail website (with photographer Annabelle Marcovici):
"Five Lessons from Pipeline Struggles" on the Bakken Resistance Coalition website: