Seeing forests as fuel: How conflicting narratives have shaped woody biomass energy development in the United States since the 1970s

  • Mittlefehldt S
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This article provides an historical analysis of arguments for and against using forests for fuel since the 1970s energy crises, and explores the relationship between public narratives and the implementation of renewable energy technologies. I argue that different ideas about the use of forest resources created narrative conflict between stakeholder groups, and this conflict influenced the development of biomass energy systems by limiting private investment and shaping public policy. Promoters and opponents of forest fuels both worked to achieve political goals as well as economic and environmental ones, and debates about biomass energy reflected these different views. Although this paper focuses on public perceptions about wood energy in the US, biomass advocacy in the US was influenced by efforts in other countries, particularly by innovation in Sweden and Finland. By providing an historical investigation of the cultural barriers to developing decentralized renewable energy systems in the US, and explaining how this experience compared with biomass development in other countries, this research demonstrates how conflicting narratives have shaped energy and environmental policy since the 1970s. This historical perspective contains valuable lessons about how different social groups' values and beliefs have affected - and continue to affect - decisions about new energy technologies.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biomass/wood energy
  • Conflicting narratives
  • Historical perspective
  • Land management

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  • Sarah Mittlefehldt

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