Although energy transition—a shift from dirty energy to cleaner, renewable energy—has become a mantra for an effective way of addressing climate change, energy impasse—the incapacity of any transition whatsoever—is actually the defining condition of our age. This essay contributes to a fuller understanding of energy transition, climate change, and the promise of renewable energy by examining the specific temporality of energy impasse. Rather than a simple blockage that can easily be nudged aside, energy impasse is underwritten by a temporal “stuckness” that is a key effect of two centuries of fossil fuel energy use. The specific characteristics of this distinct temporal mode are explored in relation to the twentieth-century project of economic futurity historicized by Timothy Mitchell and two recent versions of sustainable futurity theorized by Allan Stoekl. The time signatures named and explained in these examples of futurity serve, in distinct but complementary ways, to enable and perpetuate the stuckness of energy impasse. The essay’s argument illuminates the abiding challenge posed by petroculture, while considering the implications of impasse time for the form of solar futurity here termed the solar fix.
Mark Simpson is Professor in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta (Treaty Six / Métis territory). His recent contributions on aspects of petroculture include “Lubricity” (Petrocultures 2017), “Kerosene” (Fueling Culture 2017), “Five Theses on Sabotage in the Shadow of Fossil Capital” (with Jeff Diamanti; Radical History 2018), and “Resource Aesthetics” (with Brent Bellamy and Michael O’Driscoll; Postmodern Culture 2016).
Imre Szeman is University Research Chair in Communication Arts at the University of Waterloo. His recent work includes On Petrocultures: Globalization, Culture, and Energy (2019) and Energy Culture: Art and Theory on Oil and beyond (coedited with Jeff Diamanti, 2019).
Mark Simpson, Imre Szeman; Impasse Time. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 January 2021; 120 (1): 77–89. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-8795730
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