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ERG Colloquium: Alastair Iles

December 3, 2014 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Alastair Iles Colloquium

Energy and Resources Group Fall 2014 Col­lo­quium Series (ER295)

Surveying the Politics of Urgent Transitions: The Industrial Food System as a Case

Alastair Iles
Associate Professor
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
UC Berkeley

Contemporary industrial societies are replete with pervasive lock-ins — politically, technologically, economically, and geographically. These lock-ins make it difficult to move toward a more sustainable and just world, and away from the dominant economistic and productivist world that Richard Norgaard critiqued in his final ERG Colloquium in 2013. The industrial food system is a particularly vivid example of the challenges that exist. European transitions studies have provided useful insight into the ability of technological systems to undergo change, but these are limited by their technical perspectives. In contrast, I suggest, looking at the idea of urgent transitions can lead to more effective analysis of the political changes that could weaken food system lock-ins. I will propose an initial analytical framework for feedback and discussion. This framework will include remolding what is perceived as “normal” or legitimate, how to create greater friction slowing capitalist growth, and modes of collective knowing. I will then conclude with some thoughts regarding the role of new social networks and alternative narratives for the future.

About Alastair Iles
Broadly, I look at the intersections between science, technology, and environment. I am especially interested in how technologies – ranging from chemistry, energy systems, environmental health monitoring, to information technology – can not only affect societies and the environment (and vice versa), but generate better environmental protection. See my faculty website for more details: My web siteAt this point, I am focused on green chemistry (as one example of the chemical industry’s broader transition to sustainability) and biomass resources (including biofuels and biomass chemistry). I am very interested in whether and how biomass resources can contribute to satisfying energy needs, reducing the toxicity of chemicals, and enhancing the use of renewable resources – without causing environmental, health, and social damage.With Professor Richard Norgaard at the Energy & Resources Group and S&E graduate students, I am co-leading a $345,000 three year collaborative project funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley to study the life cycle impacts of biofuels in Brazil and the development of regulation and policy to address these impacts.With Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch of S&E, I am co-leading a $360,000 three year National Science Foundation-funded project to study the politics and policy of biomonitoring in the US. My primary focus in this area is on tracking emerging concepts in environmental health science, and on biomonitoring and other community-driven ways of monitoring health effects and exposures to risks. This helps me understand the societal, political, and technical contexts within which green chemistry, nanotechnology, sustainable industry initiatives, and other S&T developments are taking form or play out.


December 3, 2014
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Event Category:


Energy and Resources Group


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110 Barrows Hall, University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720 United States
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