The Production of Consuming Less: Energy Efficiency, Climate Change, and Light Bulbs in North Carolina Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Thoyre, Autumn
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography
  • In this research, I have analyzed the production of consuming less electricity through a case study of promotions of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). I focused on the CFL because it has been heavily promoted by environmentalists and electricity companies as a key tool for solving climate change, yet such promotions appear counter-intuitive. The magnitude of CFL promotions by environmentalists is surprising because CFLs can only impact less than 1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. CFL promotions by electricity providers are surprising given such companies' normal incentives to sell more of their product. I used political ecological and symbolic interactionist theories, qualitative methods of data collection (including interviews, participant-observation, texts, and images), and a grounded theory analysis to understand this case. My findings suggest that, far from being a self-evident technical entity, energy efficiency is produced as an idea, a part of identities, a resource, and a source of value through social, political, and economic processes. These processes include identity formation and subjectification; gender-coded household labor; and corporate appropriation of household value resulting from environmental governance. I show how environmentalists use CFLs to make and claim neoliberal identities, proposing the concept of green neoliberal identity work as a mechanism through which neoliberal ideologies are translated into practices. I analyze how using this seemingly easy energy efficient technology constitutes labor that is gendered in ways that reflect and reproduce inequalities. I show how electricity companies have used environmental governance to valorize and appropriate home energy efficiency as an accumulation strategy. I conclude by discussing the symbolic power of CFLs, proposing a theory of green obsolescence, and framing the production of energy efficiency as a global production network. I found that promoting energy efficiency involves <italic>consuming less</italic> energy by <italic>consuming more</italic> technologies. This research contributes to understandings of how environmentalists become laboring subjects in an era of neoliberalism and how energy companies are responding to the threat of climate change by turning mitigation into an opportunity for profit.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Kleinman, Sherryl
  • Havice, Elizabeth
  • Kinsella, William
  • Doyle, Martin W.
  • Kirsch, Scott
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2014
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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