This action-a-day project is part of a larger project called Just Powers that includes researchers, research-creationists, artists, and community partners working across Canada. For more information on that project and our researchers and partners, please see

Both Just Powers and this project on Deep Energy Literacy, are organized around the idea that a power shift—literally in terms of energy transition, and figuratively in terms of social justice—provide a necessary fulcrum around which to mobilize feminist and decolonial politics in the interest of economically, socially, politically and even technically just futures.

In late 2017, I ran a pilot-version of this project for 2 months. This next iteration will begin, like last year, in November.

This coming year, this action-a-day performance project is being run in collaboration with 4 other colleagues: Sara Dorow reflecting on her research in Northern Alberta’s Oil Sands region; Natalie Loveless running her deep listening project;  Sourayan Mookerjea writing; and Janice Williamson working on All of us are writing about topics related to more ecological, just, feminist, decolonized energy futures. Our writing will be done individually, but our projects will be collectively organized: we will think together and support one another to maintain our regular writing practices.

My own specific “Deep Energy Literacy” action-a-day performance project will illustrate for followers how oil, energy and specifically energy transition are feminist concerns.

I argue that energy transition also provides one of the most important material realities around which to organize feminist and decolonial actions in the interest of decarbonizing the environment and developing more socially-just human-to-human and more-than-human relationships in our local environments and communities, as well as at a global scale.

The climate is changing. We know this. We also realize that something must be done, but it can feel overwhelming to address climate change. By contrast, energy transition—the social, economical, political and technical steps needed to get us there—feel more manageable. This is why so many people are organizing around energy transition, whether it is in the boardrooms of multinational corporations, or in government offices at every level—very often municipal, where big change is taking place—or on the front lines of community organized protests to infrastructure projects.

Energy transition is a first necessary response to reducing our collective carbon footprint, particularly in the Global North. Important to understanding energy transition is knowing that energy is not only technical, but also social. Communities organize around the energy systems that power them. New energy sources will create new material conditions for the forms and habits of social life out of which new politics, new economies, and new ways of being and doing will arise. Energy transition, then, is synonymous with social change –intentional or not.

So, I argue that we should make this change intentionally. Intentional energy transition, for me, involves a powershift toward more equitable communities. To accomplish this shift in power—both the literal energy transition and the shift to more equitable power relations—requires what I call “deep energy literacy”, which is implicitly feminist. And, when I say feminist, I define it as an intersectional decolonizing politics and praxis. Energy transition must necessarily be both feminist and decolonial, at least here in Canada, where I will be doing the majority of my writing from Treaty 6 Territory.

But what does all of this mean?

In developing my theory of ‘deep energy literacy’ I draw on the theory and politics of ‘deep ecology’ that originated in the 1970s, and which argued that technocratic solutions are inadequate to the challenges of ecological devastation. I make the same claim: “deep energy literacy” is the understanding that all of our relationships are grounded in the energy systems that have fuelled our networks of power and by contrast oppression—and that the transition must be, as already mentioned, both intersectionally feminist and decolonial, as well as anti-capitalist, in its mobilization.

Deep energy literacy demands meaningful reflection on how energy sources and systems are not only technological and infrastructural but also social. It requires an accounting of how oil-powered patriarchal colonial capitalism and the climate change that it has triggered have produced and continue to enforce extreme inequities built on histories of systemic violence that disadvantage the majority of the global population living on the margins of modern life, not to mention a whole host of species endangered on a warming and increasingly toxic planet.

Deep energy literacy is an understanding of how energy transition demands a delinking from our current oil-driven realities, in a way that is much more complex and all encompassing than simply shifting from oil to an alternative source of energy, be it solar, wind, geothermal, hydro or other. Instead, deep energy literacy demands meaningful reflection on how energy sources and systems figure into local and global (glocal) ecosystems: an understanding of how some species and people benefit at the expense of those disproportionately impacted by the systemic violences of patriarchal, colonial capitalist world-views that drive existing power relations.

In short, instead of attempting to solve the problem of climate change—a problem caused by patriarchal, colonial capitalism—using the same amputated enlightenment rationale that eliminated feminist and Other knowledges from decision making, what is needed instead is a rethinking of the world and our relationships to it. This is the work of deep energy literacy.

How to get started?

Caring for what we value is one step. Energy transition now demands that we begin to care about how we live and whose interests daily-lived realities are served by the decisions we make. In Canada, for example, we have organized our lives and our cities around what we value: oil is a lubricant for all of our social relations. Here, the population resides in sprawling urban cities with even more spacious suburban developments, tied together by thousands of kilometers of train tracks, pipelines, highways, and fiber-optic telecommunication cables, dependent on oil.

The value we have attributed to oil generates corresponding social, economic and political power dynamics and infrastructures that create immense wealth for some and inordinate precarity for others. We measure what we value: oil is measured on a daily basis by the global markets. Even carbon emissions are now valued within capitalist logics. What we do not measure (value) falls under the umbrella of externalities, or even casualties: glaciers, clean water, clean air, environmental rights, Indigenous rights, Indigenous peoples, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in Canada. As transitions to new energy systems occur, we need to think seriously about value.

What do we value? What are our values? Who and what should we care for and about in the twenty-first century?

This action-a-day performance project, involves building on the pilot version of this project from 2017, and responding each day starting on November 1, 2018, to a simple instruction:

  1. Identify a place, space, relationship, instance, or opportunity of potential energy transition.
  2. Capture an image: a photograph, a screen-shot, etc.
  3. Provide a short write-up about this opportunity for energy transition and how it links to deep energy literacy. Some days, the write-ups may be short. Even just a few words. Other days, they may be more significant.

Thank you for stopping by to join me on this research-creation journey that will ultimately lead to a full book, tentatively titled Deep Energy Literacy: Toward Feminist Decolonized Futures, which is in progress behind the scenes as I engage in this action-a-day research-creation process.




© 2019 Sheena Wilson, Associate Professor, University of Alberta
Principal Investigator: Feminist Energy Futures; Future Energy Systems’ Energy Humanities: Speculative Energy Futures and iDoc Projects
Co-founder and co-director of Petrocultures Research Group
Editor-in-chief, Imaginations Journal

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