Last Words – Tojo

Can you feel the wind? Can you feel the power of Nature, the primordial breath of our world, running across the rocks and sea of the Orkney Islands? Can you feel it tearing at your jacket and your hair, as you desperately seek shelter that is only ever a half measure?

This is energy, a power that has too long been forgotten and has gone untapped by human kind, who would rather dig up and burn fuel than embrace the natural forces of the world. But that time has passed; I am proof enough of that, even though I have seen better days. Follow the wind and you will find me, where I have fallen, all but forgotten. I lie on a rocky peak overlooking the Orkney Islands that have been my home for more than half a century, and which will soon enough become my tomb.

I am the first wind turbine on Orkney and even through my time has passed and I no longer stand as tall as I once did, my gaze sees far and my memory still holds true. As I lie here I do not begrudge my end – though a little more reverence would not have been out of order – for I have full view of my legacy, here where the wind and the ocean remains a constant reminder of what power truly is.

My story began as far back as the 1950’s in the nascent beginning of the alternative energy movement. I rose above Orkney, a titan of steel and concrete, but I was only the beginning. Technological advancement soon saw me replaced – as so many others after me have been replaced – and today countless privately owned wind turbines supply the citizens of these distant isles with more than enough power, while experimental wave and tide energy plants increase this supply even further. Not only the wind and ocean but the very electrical grid of Orkney is ripe with energy.

And as technology advances and the ever looming threats of global climate change and dwindling fossil fuel resources has grown, Orkney should have been a shining beacon for energy advancement. A 2016 report from the UK National Infrastructure Commission even mentions many of the advancements made on Orkney: an infrastructure allowing for sharing of abundant natural energy resources, the implementation of grid batteries to ensure a constant and reliable flow of electricity and local flexible power production.

There is just one problem. The report never mentioned Orkney. The reasons are not clear but one thing is certain: Just like my broken body, left atop a cliff overlooking the roaring ocean, Orkney and all that have been achieved here, have been forgotten.

Like I said, my own unceremonious entombment is not what troubles me. By all means let my bones become a monument to where we came from, and how far we have come. No, my fear is for my legacy, my grand children and their children. Are they fated to the same demise as I?

Will the majestic eye of OpenHydro one day look unmoving at an ocean that it no longer harness, welcoming travelers to an energy future the mainland forgot? And what of its 7 siblings, other promising wave energy plants that might be headed for a similar fate? It is an uncomfortable notion when you look at the Alstom 1 MW tide turbine slowly rusting on the pier of Kirkwall.

Even the dreams of a far reaching, interdependent power infrastructure could be furthered if only Orkney’s single underwater cable was to be joined by another. The cable transfers excess power from Orkney to the mainland, but it is at capacity and as it stands, the billion pounds investment in an additional cable seems to be low on the agenda; the energy concentrated in the Orkney power grid and grid battery, is ripe for the taking but seem destined to be left on the vine to dry up… or rot.

So easily we forget the advancements made by those on our borders. At the edge, a brighter future has already come to pass but it has been forgotten. And if we forget what has come before… well all that work will have gone to waste, and by the time the main land catches up to its forgotten outpost, it may be too late.

This is my fear but along with that fear, I have found hope and faith, not in the decision makers in London or the reticent energy corporations, but in the people here at the edge.

Below me I can see the city of Kirkwall. Here there is talk of a marine energy museum, a way to ensure that the Alstrom will be granted a more respectful internment than I. Just like I stand as a incidental monument of the beginning, such a museum holds the promise of remembrance for how far we have come: the challenges, ingenuity and the successes of the Orkney energy experiments. Here our forward strides will not be lost to time, for the people at the edge do not forget. Their past and the past of the marine energy experiments are intertwined, and more importantly the people of Orkney are proud of what they have accomplished, and the path they walked along the way.

The people of Orkney are dealing with the present as well. When the government of distant London will not tether them to the mainland they have found other ways of utilizing their energy surplus. No fruits will rot on the vine while the people of Orkney tend the field. Orkney boast the highest number of electric cars per person anywhere in the UK, and have banded together to buy a hydrogen fuel plant. There they turn their excess energy into hydrogen fuel that powers the ferries between the islands and the mainland. Against all the odds, the energy of Orkney reaches the mainland, whether the mainland wants it or not.

And when I turn my gaze further afield, I see more reasons for hope across the North Sea in the small city of Hanstholm on the vest coast of Jutland. Just as Orkney, Hanstholm exists on the edge, largely forgotten, but they too are the sight of wave energy experiments. But unlike here, this is a new development, and the locals have yet to see the impact of these new energy sources.

But the soil of this distant shore is rich and ready for the seed of the energy future to be planted. Researchers have done this and from their fields walking sticks have grown. But these are not simply branches to lean on, but guides on a tour through the hidden world of new energy.

Inside the walking sticks a recording is housed, ready to take you on The Energy Walk.  The poetic narration of the Walk combined with the natural beauty of Hanstholm and its energy infrastructure hiding in plain sight, is meant to evoke an emotional response in the listener and to spark their imagination.

In this way the Energy Walk lifts the veil, revealing the positive impact of new energy sources, and in time the Walk might be an example of how others can come to see what the people of Orkney have seen: that in spite of its invisibility, energy is not separate from us but completely entwined to our lives.

And as I return to the bedrock of Orkney, the relentless wind rushing across me, my last thought is one of hope. No change comes un-contested, but I do not see a future that is bleak. I have seen the strength and conviction of those living on the edge, unwilling to be forgotten, and I have faith in them.

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Executive Summary – TOJO

Humanity’s energy needs have set the world on a course toward inevitable collapse, but in our hands lie the power to change our path towards a brighter sustainable future.  Our ever increasing energy needs have depleted our resources and polluted our world with the byproducts of our antiquated energy sources. A change must come, if we hope to preserve our way of life for our children and all the generations to come. But change is newer achieved without opposition and to meet this opposition, new tools must be adopted, and these tools are exactly what the Alien Energy research project has to contribute.

The new forms of energy that seem poised to take over from fossil-fuel are sun, wind and wave. These energy sources, while less energy dense, are endlessly renewable and, almost as importantly, completely natural. Harnessing the natural forces of our world is costly, and demand engineering talent and dedication, but the payoff – endless energy and the reduction of wasteful by-product, most notably CO2 – means the investment in these types of energy should be a given. Unfortunately our prior investments and the tried and true nature of fossil-fuel, lead too many to oppose this transition.

The fossil-fuel based energy-industry is an economic and political juggernaut, meaning that any high level political discussion of the new energy sources cannot happen without the shadow of economic repercussions.  And the repercussions are not only happen on a societal scale, but also on a personal level, since too many political officials rely on industry donation for their reelection funding and may even have personal holdings interfering with their objectivity. Add to that the daunting and expensive task of implementing a new section of energy production and the infrastructure to support it, and the discussion of renewable energy too often end in political gridlock. In summary, change on this scale cannot depend solely on a scientific elite or a politically influential minority; change of this kind must happen bottom up.

Examples of people influencing energy policies (Nuclear power in DK)

How infrastructure starts with societal perception.

Creating societal investment

The importance of emotional connections

The energy walk

Using similar processes in a wider context

Call to action + conclusion

Researchers using Poetry and Exploration as Weapons against Global Warming by TOJO

Written by Tobias B. L. Jørgensen

Phone: 555-354-290

E-mail: tojo@itu.dk

For immediate publication.

Researchers using Poetry and Exploration as Weapons against Global Warming

Researchers in Hanstholm are invoking emotions and imagination to pave the way for the new technologies needed to combat climate change.

Central to the issue of global climate change is a growing energy crisis, and if we want to combat this threat against humanity’s future we must abandon fossil fuels and look to new, clean energy technology. In Hanstholm, poetry and exploration are part of an experiment to increase awareness of these new technologies, following researchers’ belief that an emotional connection to these new technologies is an important step towards them being adopted by society and becoming commercially viable.

The experiment in question is the Energy Walk, a 40 minute nature walk which combines the actual physical exploration of Hanstholm and the surrounding area, with a narration written by the Poet and Associate Professor Laura Watts. The Energy Walk is part of the Alien Energy research project funded by the IT University of Copenhagen. This research project is investigating and experimenting with the social impact of new “alien” energy sources on the local society surrounding them. In Hanstholm’s case the technology in question is wave-energy, derived from the momentous forces of the North Sea crashing against Jutland’s western shores. As with most of these new “alien” technologies (sun, wind and wave) the location is immensely important, leading the researchers, Dr. Brit Ross Winthereik and Dr. Laura Watts, to emphasize the importance of local societal acceptance and understanding if these technologies are to move from the experimental to the commercially viable.

And this is where the Energy Walk comes in. By combining the exploration of the local area, the known and relatable, with a poetic narration that reframes Hanstholm as part of the new energy revolution, the researchers hope to foster acceptance and understanding, not only though education, but through emotional investment. The Energy Walk invokes the local landscape and infrastructure, but uses poetic narration to highlight the ordinarily invisible aspects of these. This is meant to create awareness of the importance of seemingly mundane objects and their relation to the listener’s own life. Simultaneously the narration asks the listener to imagine the history and larger scope of energy technology, before finally concluding by looking to the future, with the experimental wave energy plant off the Hanstholms coast as the last motif. As a pilot project and an experiment the Energy walk seems to be a success, with the researches citing stories of locals being deeply moved by the tour, and being amazed at the new perspective it has granted them.

All in all, the Energy Walk is set to become the example of both a new method and the argument for the impact of said method; hopefully paving the way for a future where green energy becomes embraced by the general public and global climate change becomes a thing of the past.

“…the Energy Walk provides a case or lens for showing how aesthetics may contribute to the border-crossing art-science experiments already taking place in [similar] research.”

-Line Marie Thorsen, writing about the Energy Walk.


Written by Tobias B. L. Jørgensen, Student, IT University of Copenhagen. For any further questions, contact at tojo@itu.dk. For additional information about the Energy Walk or Alien Energy research project, contact IT University of Copenhagen at contact@itu.dk

Sources:  Winthereik, Brit Ross: The Energy Walk: Infrastructuring the Imagination, printed in “Handbook of Digital STS”, Princeton University Press, 2017.

Thorsen, Line Marie; The Energy Walk: Experimenting with Aesthetic Methods in STS?, link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09505431.2015.1076641

 

Tojo

Peer review of The Energy Walk: Experimenting with Aesthetic Methods in STS?

The Energy Walk is a guided tour of Hanstholm, one of three major focal points for the alternative energy research project Alien Energy. The walk is meant to be an artistic introduction to the often unseen energy infrastructure of our modern world, as well as an educational look at future energy sources.

Thorsen’s paper argues that the Energy Walk is a prime case study of the importance of aesthetics in STS (Science, Technology and Society) research. The walk invokes John Dewey’s “aesthetic experience”, Thorsen argues, making it an example of aesthetics’ crucial role when science and art is merged.

The first issue I find in Thorsen’s text is an overuse of repetitions. Repetition might be used to tie a text together or emphasize an argument. Unfortunately Thorsen’s excessive use of repetition has the opposite effect, making the text homogenous, less engaging and harder to navigate. For example:

[The walk] guides the participant through the tensions of knowing and not-knowing, seeing and not-seeing, the energy topographies of Hanstholm harbour.

… but by offering the tensions and frictions between the visible and the invisible, the known and the unknown, the close and the faraway, as a momentarily coherent experience.

Though the exact phrasing has been changed, the two sentences (which are part of one paragraph) are so alike that the repetition feels needless. An easy fix would be to omit or change the word “tension” and the phrase “the known and the unknown” in the second paragraph.

The second critique is Thorsen’s needlessly detailed description of the Energy Walk. The objective of the text is not an introduction or overview of the walk, nor a detailed analysis of its design. As such the following seems overly detailed:

…one of four walking sticks, each fitted with a small round wooden shell from where a long cord stretches out, attached at the other end to a set of headphones. The wooden shell conceals a device that plays the audio guiding the participant. […]

This citation exemplifies a large part of the text describing the walk. These descriptions, though interesting and thorough, do not seem to inform the analysis of the walk. I would advice Thorsen to shorten her description of the walk, or present Dewey’s theory earlier in the text and use it to reflect on the walk throughout.

The final critique I will bring up concerns anecdotes and anecdotal descriptions. Anecdotes can have their place in an academic text. E.g. the introduction to the text helps to ground it in something concrete, evocative and relatable. Unfortunately, not all of Thorsen’s anecdotes manage to strike an academic tone. For example:

The four walking sticks are mounted on a wall behind the ice-cream counter…

Though this is an evocative image, the emotional response an ice cream counter elicits weakens the scientific validity of Thorsen’s argument. I would urge Thorsen to avoid descriptions that serve only to garner an emotional response, unless said descriptions are crucial to her analysis.