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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.132

Fuelling discontent: conflicts over price setting under energy austerity


  • Dr. Charlotte BRUCKERMANN

Primary authors


Recent waves of unrest surrounding the price of fuel have proliferated globally, including the French gilets jaunes movement and the Mexican gasolinazos protests. Austerity politics often justify squeezing profits out of utilities and limiting access to basic necessities. Adding insult to injury, the banner of environmental necessity sometimes obscures profit motives in resulting price hikes. Climate change, toxic pollution, and degraded ecosystems thereby become enlisted to diminish the livelihoods of economically dispossessed and ecologically vulnerable populations. In the winter of 2017-2018, events in China revealed the barely contained cracks in its energy policy. For half a century the state guaranteed coal-fuelled domestic heating for northern urbanites in winter. To curtail air pollution, the government ordered a coal-into-gas conversion that left many residents freezing. As temperatures plunged, gas prices soared, and outrage spread. To stem the unrest, the government brought the policy to an abrupt halt. Lofty blue sky promises rang particularly hollow for residents in the coal province of Shanxi. After decades of suffering atmospheric pollution and landscape degradation, calls to decarbonize the economy led to mine closures and massive layoffs, exacerbating energy austerity in the midst of a landscape marred by extraction. Flouting official proclamations, residents defied coal limits in heating, cooking, and mining by circulating emergency fuel and reinforcing local solidarities. Rather than reading these responses as anti-environmental per se, I argue that this coal defiance formed a dispersed resistance to the unequal distribution of the spoils of environmental degradation and the costs of ecological redress.