The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement heralded unprecedented international consensus on the need to transition from fossil fuels within the next few decades. The uneven responses from state, corporate, and civil actors across the world clearly signify the challenges – and opportunities – that lie ahead. On the one hand, they demonstrate the enduring power of oil and gas as the industry seeks to adapt to the post-Paris world in various ways – exploration, expansion, technical development, political and media management. On the other, the responses have inaugurated a range of efforts to break free from the ‘lock-in’ of the fossil-fuel system and realize a host of potential alternative scenarios. Any initiatives towards future ‘sustainability’, meanwhile, are contextualized by intensifying claims to energy security, sitting uneasily alongside the reality of rising global energy demand.
The organising theme of Petrocultures 2018 was Transition. The conference provided an important forum for examining and extending existent framings and sitings of oil and petroculture, while also striving to consider the social, cultural, and aesthetic life of alternative forms of energy, such as wind, solar, and hydro power.
This was the first Petrocultures conference to be held outside North America. Scotland was an excellent location from which to contemplate the petrocultural and beyond. The country’s relationship with its offshore oil industry offered a rich backdrop for examining all the contradictions and controversies, opportunities and challenges oil has presented to modern petroculture and the world-ecological condition it has fostered. As a relatively late site of oil and gas extraction, Scotland has always been acutely perceptive of the inevitable ‘ends’ of oil. Much recent focus has been on the reality of decommissioning its petro-infrastructure, and the social consequences of this event. Attempts to become a leading site of renewable energy have been accompanied by bold climate policy initiatives. Illuminating parallels can be drawn, therefore, between Scotland’s experience and that of other key oil-sites, from Ireland, Canada and Norway to the Netherlands and the City of London, but also with emergent low-carbon initiatives seeking to install a culture of transition, across the continent and the globe.
Petrocultures 2018 brought together scholars, policy-makers, industry employees, artists, and public advocacy groups from across Europe, North America, and beyond. Speakers included:
- Dominic Boyer (Professor of Anthropology and Director, CENHS, Rice University)
- Sharae Deckard (School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin)
- Jeff Diamanti (Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam)
- Cymene Howe (Dept. of Anthropology and Director, CSWGS, Rice University)
- Andreas Malm (Human Geography, Lund University)
- Miranda Pennell (Artist and Filmmaker)
- Renata Tyszczuk (School of Architecture, University of Sheffield)
- Laura Watts (Science and Technology Studies, IT University of Copenhagen)