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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Dr Sarah Knuth

Knuth, S.E. (2019). Whatever Happened to Green Collar Jobs? Populism and Clean Energy Transition. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 109(2): 634-643.

Author(s) from Durham


In today’s populist moment, climate change response has become anything but “postpolitical.” The project to decarbonize energy supplies is generating ongoing political clashes today, including between competing forms of capital/ism. In the United States, rising renewable energy industries in places like California contend with fossil fuel blocs and their regional bases. Such confrontations are sparking populist organizing on the right and left. I argue that critical geography must further consider left populist movements’ role in these politics of clean energy transition, grievance, and reparation and openings for collectively advancing more liberatory futures. I survey a wave of coalition-building that has evolved in the United States since the beginnings of the New Economy, allying U.S. environmentalists, organized labor, and, more recently, racial and community justice organizers. This movement became most visible as it built networks around calls for national “green collar” job creation during the late 2000s financial crisis and 2008 presidential campaign. Its organizing shaped noteworthy, if ultimately limited Obama administration programs and continues to influence clean energy rollout in regions such as California, particularly campaigns for job quality and racial diversity in green construction. I consider here both these successes and their limits in a turbulent clean-tech sector: the need for farther reaching transformations in energy–industrial policy and democratic participation in shaping them.