New Directions

New Directions in Greening Infrastructure


As the effects of climate change become more obvious, moving away from fossil fuels has only become more urgent. But to do so, new energy sources – and new infrastructure – are desperately needed.

Recorded on March 20, 2024, this panel features three early-career scholars from UC Berkeley presenting their research on the greening infrastructure and the green energy transition. The panel included Johnathan Guy, PhD Candidate in Political Science; Caylee Hong, a PhD candidate in Anthropology, and Andrew Jaeger, PhD Candidate in Sociology. The panel was moderated by Daniel Aldana Cohen, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley. Co-Sponsored by the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, the Berkeley Climate Change Network, and the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative.


Johnathon GuyJohnathan Guy is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley. He studies the political economy of development in South and Southeast Asia, focusing on the politics of climate change and the energy transition. His ongoing dissertation project, “Selecting for Solar: The Political Incentives Behind Power Generation Project Section,” attempts to understand the diverging trajectories of power sector buildouts in India and Indonesia.

Caylee HongCaylee Hong is an attorney, interdisciplinary researcher, and educator. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at UC Berkeley, where she researches urban oil production in the Los Angeles Basin. Her dissertation examines the ways that diverse stakeholders navigate the decommissioning and redevelopment of century-old oil fields in the heart of cities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach. She has published research on infrastructure finance, the environment, law, and citizenship in AntipodeAnthropological Theory, and Fieldsights.

Andrew JaegerAndrew Jaeger is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at UC Berkeley. His dissertation analyzes the political economy of climate change in California.


Daniel Aldana CohenDaniel Aldana Cohen is Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, where he is Director of the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2, and serves as a faculty affiliate in the graduate program on Political Economy. Cohen works on the intersections of the climate emergency, housing, political economy, social movements, and inequalities of race and class in the United States and Brazil. As Director of (SC)2, he is leading qualitative and quantitative research projects on Whole Community Climate Mapping, green political economy, and eco-apartheid. He is the co-author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green Deal (Verso 2019), and is currently completing a book project called Street Fight: Climate Change and Inequality in the 21st Century City, under contract with Princeton University Press.

Podcast and Transcript

Listen to this event below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


[WOMAN’S VOICE] The Matrix Podcast is a production of Social Science Matrix, an interdisciplinary research center at the University of California, Berkeley.

[JULIA SIZEK] Hello, everyone. We’re going to go ahead and get started. Thank you for coming. My name is Julia Sizek, and I am the postdoc here at Social Science Matrix. And today’s panel, New Directions in Greening Infrastructure, is about a topic that I actually find particularly interesting in my own research, which is this big question of like, if we’re going to switch to greener energy sources, then how are we actually going to create the infrastructure that we need for it?

And in my own research, this has appeared in the guise of, like, a much stranger being, which is the sort of ghost of transcontinental railroad right of ways and how they get used for other purposes, both for infrastructure, as well as for a potentially comically evil water project in the Mojave Desert that I have done a lot of research on.

And here I think we actually have a lot of similar questions, which is how do we take these old fossil fuel infrastructures and these old rules that we have created with fossil fuels in mind and transfer them to a new system that we want that will be, you know, theoretically greener and better for the environment and more sustainable overall? So these, obviously, are not only technical questions, but they’re also social scientific ones. And that is why we have invited our panelists today to speak about them.

So today’s panel is part of this New Direction series here at Matrix. And this is a series that features the work of junior scholars here on Berkeley’s campus. One thing that is particularly great about this series is that it is working with graduate students and people who do not have tenure and are not tenure track people at the university, which I think are an untapped resource in terms of looking at research, and also some of the people who have the most interesting ideas here because they aren’t yet old and stodgy. OK.

And then just to advertise a couple of our– and then part of this is it’s also been co-sponsored by some other centers on campus, which include SC 2, Bessie, and the Berkeley Climate Change Network. OK.

And our upcoming events– we have a couple of exciting events, some of which might be of interest to you all. So on April 1, we have a discussion of the book Nature-Made Economy– Cod, Capital and the Great Economization of the Ocean here for you nature people. On April 4, we’re going to have a discussion of the book The Gender of Capital.

On April 22, we will have an event on caste, education, and social struggle in modern India. And then on May 1, we will have a discussion of the book Puta Life– Seeing Latinas, Working Sex. And you can find out about this and other events that we have here at Matrix on our website, which is

So, with all of that out of the way, I can introduce our lovely moderator Daniel Aldana Cohen. So he is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Sociospatial Climate Collaborative, which is one of the co-sponsors of this event. Also is a faculty affiliate in the graduate program on political economy.

Cohen’s work focuses on the intersections of the climate emergency, housing, political economy, social movements, and inequalities of race and class in the United States and Brazil, which is a very broad and also important topic. He is the author– the co-author of A Planet to Win, Why We Need a Green Deal, and is currently completing a book project called Street Fight, Climate Change and Inequality in the 21st Century, which is under contract with Princeton University Press. So without any further ado, I will turn it over to Daniel.

[DANIEL ALDANA COHEN] Am I coming through on the mic. Sorry for the scratchy voice. No?


Oh, OK. OK, here we go. All right. Sorry for the scratchy voice. I’ve been on recruitment duties for the last three days talking about how great Berkeley is. OK, I’m thrilled to be here. This couldn’t be a more important topic. Estimates of how much new investment will go into things like greening infrastructure are in the range of $3 to $9 trillion per year for the next 25 to 30 years. So this is arguably the battleground over which many of the big fights over equality, sustainability, democracy, and so on will be fought in the coming decades.

And as you pointed out, Julia, the PhD students here are actually the faculty of the faculty since we run around to meetings, but what we learn we learn from the PhD students. So I’m thrilled to learn from three of them today.

So we’ll be hearing from Jonathan Guy, who is a PhD candidate here at Berkeley. He studies the political economy of development in south and southeast Asia, focusing on the politics of climate change and the energy transition. His ongoing dissertation project– Selecting for Solar, the Political Incentives Behind Power Generation Project Selection– attempts to understand the diverging trajectories of power– of power sector buildouts in India and Indonesia.

Caylee Hong is an attorney, interdisciplinary researcher, and educator. She is currently a PhD candidate in anthropology here at Berkeley, where she researches urban oil production in the Los Angeles basin. There’s a lot of it.

Her dissertation examines the ways that diverse stakeholders navigate the decommissioning and redevelopment of century-old oil fields in the heart of cities, including LA and Long Beach. She’s published research on infrastructure, finance, the environment, law and citizenship, and antipode anthropological theory and field sites.

Finally, Andrew Jaeger is a PhD candidate in sociology– my wonderful department here at Berkeley. His dissertation analyzes the political economy of climate change in California. He’s published in Social Problems and on his dissertation topic in social forces.

So each will speak for about 15 minutes, then I will ask a question or two. We’ll open it up to the audience. We’ll be here till about 1:30– no later than 1:30, I should say. So, um, so thrilled. Jonathan, I think you’ll kick us off. Oh, Caylee. Oh, my apologies. Different orders. Caylee, please come on up.

[CAYLEE HONG] I think I’m properly mic’d up right now. Awesome. Thank you, Daniel, for the introduction. And thank you to the Social Science Matrix for inviting us to be here today. And thank you as well to the co-sponsors, and particularly Chuck and Julia, for organizing today’s discussion.

So I’d like to begin with a basic query, which is, what are the lasting impacts of our 100, 150 year-long experiment with oil and gas? This question prompts a striking observation– that even if we, as Daniel mentioned, rapidly transition, hopefully, away from fossil fuels and move beyond our dependency on oil, we’re still going to be entangled with not just the carbon in the atmosphere and plastics everywhere else, but also with fossil fuel infrastructures, and particularly oil and gas wells.

We have punctured tens of millions of holes into the Earth, some as deep as 40,000 feet. And in order to prevent leaks into the atmosphere, groundwater, soil of, say, explosive methane or noxious hydrogen sulfide, each well must be decommissioned. And that’s technically called, at least here in California, plugging and abandonment. So basically, it’s a process whereby you remove these external infrastructures and contaminated soils and then fill the wellbore with cement.

Yet, across the world, including here in California, we are still without any real plans, regulations or incentives to decommission wells at scale. As a result, wells are often left interminably idle or deserted altogether by their operators. And in the United States alone, there are an estimated 57,000 orphan wells. And this number could be actually as high as 746,000, and I would say probably even higher than that.

So my research focuses on the LA Basin. And with 68 named oil fields and over 12,000 wells, there really is no place on Earth that has so many wells so close to so many people. And here’s a map of LA County that gives you an idea of the massive spread of wells across this whole area.

So most wells in LA County are inactive. And so the yellow dots, again, are those idle wells that I mentioned. So they’re not– they’re not– they’re not active, but they’re not plugged and abandoned. And then the red dots are plugged. The blue you see here are, in fact, the only sites in LA County that are, in fact, today active.

So over the course of 18 months of fieldwork conducted between June, 2021, and January, 2023, I explored how residents of LA County are navigating the decommissioning and redevelopment of urban oil fields. And today, I’m going to focus on one specific field called the Los Angeles City Field. And that is– you can see it up on the map. It’s really in the center, in the heart of LA. It’s a 4 miles-long strip that’s considered the most urbanized oil field in the nation.

And there, I ask how residents living atop of this field, which is just a mile away from downtown LA, are organizing their neighborhood, called Vista Hermosa, to decommission hundreds of deserted oil wells. This organizing, which seeks to make known the persisting risks of wells and to secure their decommissioning, is shaped by and must necessarily confront the invisibility of the problem. And so today, I’m going to focus on just giving you an idea of what I mean by this invisibility in two ways. One is this surface invisibility, and the second is invisibility in regulator well records.

So first, let’s go to the city’s surface. Nearly all the wells in this neighborhood of Vista Hermosa are no longer active. They’ve been deserted by their operators, some over 100 years ago. And so this past, at least on the surface, is invisible.

And this is– these are a series of pictures taken from in and around the neighborhood. And so this is what you’d see if you were to walk around it today– again, a rather everyday scene. Now, the work of residents has been to draw attention to these wells, which, again, as you can see, can’t be seen, yet continue to haunt the landscape and residents’ bodies, including through higher rates of cancer, asthma, and other illnesses that residents have documented.

So if this is what the surface looks like, this is what the subterranean reveals, an absolutely enormous number of wells in this LA field. And the pink dots here are the ones that are idle. So, again, they’re not active, but they’re not actually decommissioned. And the gray dots are plugged. And most people who are living in this area don’t know that they exist at all.

Oil was discovered in the LA City Field in 1890. And for 50 to 60 years, people produced oil, absent any regulations. And when these wells would stop flowing or an operator, for example, would go bankrupt, people would fill the wells with dirt and then build homes beside or on top of wells. And by the time regulations came into place starting not until 1915, there were already thousands of wells that were drilled throughout this area. And then over this time period, the city of LA emerged alongside of and within the LA City Field.

During fieldwork, I saw residents mobilize to raise awareness of these wills– of these wells and their risks. And here is a photo– or here’s two photos of two community organizers, Danny and Rosalinda, who are holding up historical photos from the same spot in their neighborhood. And this discrepancy between the past and the present landscape highlight the persisting effects of this bygone era of oil production.

And then here’s a couple photos of the Vista Hermosa Community Group actions from the last couple of years, including an oil well tour from May, 2021. And that’s the photo on the right with some Sunrise Movement members. And the photo on the left is from an August, 2022, rally which was organized to shame a developer who had allegedly failed to decommission at least two other oil wells that were underneath an affordable housing project in the neighborhood. And the new housing project, you can see is, the large building in the background.

So there’s a second kind of invisibility at work as well. And that is gaps and uncertainties in well records, which are essential to decommissioning work. And here, my research draws upon the records of the California regulator, which nowadays is called CalGEM, the California Geologic Energy Management Division.

And for brevity, I’m going to mention just one specific well called Rogalske 1. both these images are from the CalGEM, so the state regulator’s records. And they show a surface scene, a regular house in this neighborhood, and then the subterranean scene, which is comprising of mostly idle– again, those purple wells– including now Rogalske 1, which I’ve identified with the red circle. And this well is now plugged and abandoned.

But it’s decommissioning history reveals the extraordinarily challenges that the city residents and also regulators faced. This well was drilled sometime in the 1800s, but it actually only became known to CalGEM and residents after new tenants started complaining about a rotten egg smell, which is indicative of hydrogen sulfide.

As you can see from this map, CalGEM’s records actually showed that there was a well present. But according to the regulator, this map and its other documents were, in fact, not reliable. So, therefore, the state didn’t have an obligation to either physically locate it, and therefore to decommission it.

CalGEM rightly points out, however, that the surveying techniques from the 1800s when this was drilled are not dependable, that street names and other markers have changed. So a well can easily be 100 years off or so. And in a densely populated urban neighborhood like Vista Hermosa, 100 yards, I mean, is absolutely enormous.

So, eventually, it took the landowner using a jackhammer in the dead of night to physically locate the well. And here is a video of the grand reveal of Rogalske 1, which was located mere feet away from the household’s front door.

Yeah, so this is what it looks like. It’s not much. But it really did take a landowner with a jackhammer to tell and to identify it so that the regulator could eventually plug and abandon it, which did happen. But it took three months and almost half a million dollars.

So this question of what to do with aged wells is taking on urgent significance nowadays as the city redevelops former oil fields. Currently, rapid real estate development and the need to address critical housing shortages in LA are compounding these long persisting environmental harms.

And here are some of the numerous recently completed and planned housing projects in Vista Hermosa. And existing residents like Danny and Rosalinda, who I mentioned earlier, argue that the dangers that are posed by oil wells, their leaks, their explosions, their health impacts are being exacerbated by the neighborhood’s transformation into a much denser place as these market rate luxury rental units are replacing single family homes and modest apartments.

While this construction boom creates opportunities to decommission wells, the developments also worsen existing risks in two ways. So first, developers don’t know where wells are located. As we saw with Rogalske 1, there are potentially hundreds of wells that are not documented or poorly documented.

And this creates a scenario where developers can plausibly deny responsibility for decommissioning wells just as like we saw with CalGEM. And then second, the city of Los Angeles allows developers to build directly over top of wells, which is contrary to CalGEM’s strong recommendations. This, on the one hand, promotes densification.

And many of us here today will know why that is important in planning for our energy futures. But it means that if there ever was a leak, the well could not be accessed. And the problem is that once a well is drilled, it actually never disappears even if it’s properly plugged and abandoned. And the former deputy director of CalGEM explained to me that, and I quote, “until we get hit by an asteroid and the Earth is removed along with the wells, the wells will remain a conduit.”

So in conclusion, as we transition energy regimes, we are faced with the expansive spatiotemporal reach of fossil fuels, which extends by way of infrastructures beyond the fossil fuel era. Greening infrastructures will mean accounting for our ongoing entanglement with pipelines and refineries and millions of wells. And as Vista Hermosa shows, processes of cleanup and decommissioning and transition will shape the future paths of not just energy production, but also really our municipal futures for generations. So thank you very much.


[JOHNATHAN GUY] Great. Hi, everyone. Thank you for coming. And thanks to Julie and Chuck and the Matrix for putting this on. My name is Johnathan Guy. I’m a PhD candidate in political science. Today, I’m going to be talking about my dissertation project, Selecting for Solar– Electricity Planning, State Structures and the Politics of Distributive Control.

I’m first going to talk about the motivation for the project, what the question is and why I’m choosing the case an empirical focus that I am, which is comparing India and Indonesia. I’m going to dive into this comparison. And I want to say as a preface, this is very much an ongoing work in progress. I have six months of fieldwork planned out this coming year. So I’ll have more refined findings after that.

But based on my case reading and preliminary visits to each country, I’m going to talk about three contrasts between the countries that I think– three potential explanations that explain why India has gone for renewables and Indonesia has not. And then I’m going to tie it all together at the end and zoom out to other countries and think more about how we can think about the political drivers of the energy transition. OK.

So we all know the story, right? We all know by now, you know, the first two decades of the 21st century are a story of falling renewables costs. Through investments in industrial policy and innovation, solar and wind have become cheap– cheap enough for many developed and developing countries to use at scale. But there’s a lot of variation, right?

And so my dissertation is trying to make sense of the variation in the uptake of wind and solar power– uptake that, at first glance, doesn’t seem to follow any recognizable pattern, right? So this is one of my favorite things to do, is to list the countries that had the highest levels of wind and solar as a percentage of electricity generation.

Does anybody have any idea what these countries might have in common? Right, they’re kind of all over the board. There are rich and poor countries, democratic and authoritarian, right, politically stable and unstable. When there’s much more of a pattern and we can talk about differences between wind and solar– wealthier countries, countries with higher levels of state capacity tend to adopt wind at higher rates.

But I’m going to be– my dissertation is much more focused on this comparison between India and Indonesia. Right, these are two countries that have pretty similar political systems, right, parliamentary democracies. They’re also both heavily reliant on coal and have very high– coal is integrated deeply into both political systems. Yet, we see this huge difference, right? We see– we see India incorporating wind and solar to a much greater extent in its electricity generation supply. And this puzzled me.

We can further dive into some of the data and show that just as India has really taken off since 2014, 2015, right, with the advent of the Modi government, we see similar patterns in power generation buildout on the fossil fuel side as well. Whereas India has dramatically decreased the pace of its– the addition of coal-fired capacity, in Indonesia it has increased over the same time period, right?

And we can also see this in terms of the project pipeline, right? There is the– the vast majority of coal plants in the pipeline– or not the vast majority, but the majority have been canceled, right? And in India– whereas in Indonesia, there are some cancellations, but we see to much greater extent exerted– a political effort, sustained political effort to build coal plants.

So why this difference, right? So previous scholarship has identified some potential reasons for India’s solar growth, and especially under Modi. One explanation is that Modi made very serious political commitments to wind and solar, and particularly solar, because he– he was elected and inaugurated the year before the Paris Agreement was signed. And he wanted to make– he also wanted to signal to international audiences and to domestic audiences that he was a modernizing reformer. This is an explanation that’s been advanced.

A second explanation is that solar is pretty cheap in India. Solar is higher– there are higher levels of irradiation, right? The sun shines more days of the year than in Indonesia. And then explanation three is that India is overall much more open to foreign investment. And this– since wind and solar are technologies that have been broadly developed in China and the Global North, that this explains why there’s been greater uptake.

But on further– both all of these explanations are sort of complicated or refuted by further investigation of these cases. Number one, Jokowi was similarly positioned, right? He was elected at the same time as Modi in 2014, had very similar– he also was elected on the basis of being a sort of modernizing reformer, right? But instead, went for coal, right?

Explanation two, solar is cheaper in India. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that this might not actually be the case. And in fact– and further, there are plenty of very high solar penetration cases that have worse sunlight than Indonesia, for example, Vietnam.

And while India might have more foreign direct investment in general, this is not true in the power sector. In fact, a lot of India’s solar investment has been domestic. And a lot of Indonesia’s coal investment has been foreign.

So I’m going to talk about some of the case evidence. And I’m going to draw three contrasts. The first is in the status of India and Indonesia’s coal supply chains at the time that wind and solar got cheap, right? So here, we have graphs, first, of Indonesia’s coal supply chain. This is just showing production and exports relative to consumption. And in many ways, it’s showing the health of the supply chain.

It’s, you know– and here, we see that Indonesia’s supply produces far more coal than it consumes. It exports the vast majority of its coal. This has not always been the case. Whereas India, despite having just as much if not more coal than Indonesia, still relies on coal imports for an increasingly large share of its production, although this has been mitigated somewhat since the beginning of the Modi era.

So what is driving this difference, right, given that these countries have comparable coal endowments? Well, as I argue, this has to do with the deeper story of the deeper histories of coal exploitation, right? So compared to India, Indonesia’s coal industry is relatively young. It wasn’t really, really developed until the second half of the dictatorship that existed in Indonesia from the 1960s to the 1990s.

It wasn’t until the energy crisis of the 1970s that initial policy investments were made. And eventually, the industry took off. The rents that came from the industry were distributed fairly narrowly. And it wasn’t really until the 2000s that they were distributed more broadly, right?

And so, ultimately, Indonesia’s coal industry began to boom just as wind and solar got cheap. And part of the story of coal plant construction is a story of economic insurance, right? The government wanting to create domestic demand for coal in the event that there are downturns in the export market, OK?

India’s coal story is very different. India’s coal story is one of– it goes– begins much earlier because India democratized earlier and stayed a democracy. A lot of– as I argue, a lot of the rents associated with coal development, coal mining, have been stretched to accommodate various political constituencies and their demands. I can talk more in the Q&A if folks are interested about the different kinds of rents and how–

But the broad story is that by the time of the 1990s, these rents were placing tremendous strain on India’s ability to produce coal cost effectively. And this produced this import dependence and this energy security crisis. And so because of this, right, India experienced a supply chain breakdown. This created strong energy incentives, or energy security incentives, to make investments in solar policy, right?

Ironically, a lot of these– you know, the political incentives both to go for solar and the political incentives that sabotaged coal in the Indian case had to do with short-termism, right? Usually, when we think of climate politics, we think of– and green investment– we think of the ability– short-termism as a bad thing, right? Because we need the ability to impose big costs today in terms of benefits tomorrow. And as I argue, the opposite logic drove the transition in the Indian case.

OK, the second contrast. So renewables in general do thrive on outside investment. And by outside investment, I mean not just foreign investment but investment by private actors, right? So here, we can see some cross-national evidence for this, right? On the x-axis is financial liberalization measured by the Heritage Foundation. And on the y-axis, we have wind and solar share of electricity.

And we see there is a strong relationship between financial liberalization and wind and solar uptake, right? And this reflects broader scholarship that has found that sectoral governance and broader institutions governing finance are more important for the adoption of wind and solar than specific instruments in some cases like fee and tariffs or auctions. OK.

But there are a lot of commitment problems that stand in the way of wind and solar investment, right? These are emerging industries that developing countries are generally inexperienced with. And often, because of for various reasons, governments find it difficult to maintain and keep promises over the long term as is necessary in order to attract and sustain investment.

And here, we see an example of that in India, right, at the state level. Initially, it was actually very difficult. This headline is from about five years ago. It was actually very difficult to get state governments to agree and maintain their commitments to investors.

In Indonesia– Indonesia, like India, attempted to liberalize its power sector in the early 2000s. Unlike India, Indonesia was unsuccessful. The Supreme Court struck down the law. And so as a result, India and Indonesia have very different ownership structures and governance structures in the power sector.

In Indonesia, a single state-owned monopoly, PLN, dominates the generation, transmission and distribution segments. There is also– because electricity tariffs are set at the national level, often PLN is very constrained in its budget because of the political demands for subsidies. And as a result, it’s been very difficult to get PLN to invest in renewables because they have a higher share of upfront costs.

So an example of this is in the lead up to the 2019 elections, the government placed tremendous financial strain on PLN by not refusing to allow it to raise electricity prices. In response, PLN lobbied very hard to avoid renewables investment, OK? How much time?

A couple minutes.

Couple minutes? OK. So I’m going to zoom through this. So in India, by contrast, there was– both a lot of power procurement and the tariff setting happens– is both liberalized and happens at the state level rather than the federal level. Because of this, the central government didn’t face the same kind of fiscal pressures that state governments do. And so the result has been, sort of, battles between the center and the states over renewables procurement, where the center wants more because they don’t bear the political cost, and the states fight it.

The exception to this has been cases in which there are significant political incentives to expand capacity because wind and solar can be built quicker. Governments that are facing greater power deficits have had political incentive to build capacity quickly. And as I argue, that has incentivized them to build out wind and solar. OK.

So the takeaways from the investment story is that short-term incentives have kind of been bashed in the political economy of climate change literature because the incentives of these governments in developing countries to provide a lot of short-term benefits like electricity subsidies has seen to crowd out these longer term investments that are necessary for decarbonization. But as I find from my case evidence in India and other places, in cases where rapid increases in electricity supply are important, those lower– shorter construction times of wind and solar can actually cause short-termism to benefit decarbonization.

OK, I’m going to maybe skip to– I only have a couple of minutes. I think the political alignment stuff is more tentative. So maybe I can talk about, what are some overall takeaways from the comparison between India and Indonesia? One is that institutional constraints on the ability to control rents associated with traditional sources of power generation results in increased renewables.

And this has become really clear in India. I didn’t have really time to go through the story about coal India. But essentially, in Modi’s case, a lot of the rents associated with coal production were not really something that he could control. And because of that, building out renewables was more politically attractive. And I think we see similar cases in Turkey and South Africa.

Secondly, having domestic supporters capable of undertaking renewable projects efficiently instead of relying on foreign investment can make renewables more attractive to incumbents. In Indonesia, Jokowi didn’t really have the domestic corporate sector capable of executing these solar projects in the way that Modi did. Further, these firms were aligned with the BJP generally– not always against Congress, but generally with the BJP. And this was really important for making solar politically workable.

OK, so what can we learn overall? Number one, the fate of solar and wind relies, in part, on the status of patronage politics in developing countries, especially in traditional power generation sources, right? So what is the opportunity cost politically of going into solar and wind instead of continuing to invest in traditional power generation sources?

Number two, short-termism isn’t always a bad thing. Renewable energy has, especially wind and solar, has some short-term benefits that are important to consider. It’s also important to think more about the role of incumbency, right? Do incumbents have control over these rents that they use politically to manage their coalition, rents that are more typically associated with traditional power generation sources? When they don’t, a renewables transition is more likely.

And this has lessons for us here in the developed world as well in terms of thinking about negotiating agreements like JETP, the Just Energy Transition Partnership. You know, how compatible are the distributional benefits of these partnerships with the kind of incentives that incumbents face to maintain their ruling coalition?

Yeah. And I’m going to skip these cases because I think we’re out of time. I’m out of time. But–

You can take one more minute.

Well, I can tell you a little bit more about these cases, right? Like, I think that the political logic extends. I think that one key thing that broader cases show us is that the short-term benefits of wind and solar– benefits that are often– that come from shorter construction times are only valuable in environments where incumbents are actually able to make wind and solar projects proceed pretty quickly.

And in Bangladesh and Nigeria, even though that there are very strong political incentives to increase electricity supply, the governments have a very hard time negotiating with investors. This lengthens the process of solar and wind project completion and sort of dampens the sort of time benefit– the incentives that come from that time benefit, rather.

Yeah. In South Africa and Turkey, you see cases where there is initially, like, a lot of government support for renewables. And then, in both cases, the government pulls back. And I argue this has to do with democratic backsliding and the erosion of constraints between the executive and the governance of the power sector, right? In both of these cases, as, you know, Erdogan and Zuma get stronger, they’re able to control the rents associated with coal, and natural gas in the case of Turkey.

And once they– while initially they were constrained and they had more incentive to build out these alternative patronage networks in wind and solar, once they obtain greater control over the traditional sources of rents, it becomes their incentives. This is why these energy transitions stalled, is my argument. Anyway, thank you very much.



[ANDREW JAEGER] All right. [CLEARS THROAT] Is my mic audible? How was that? Great. OK, I’m trying a new thing of having my notes on my slides on my iPad. We’ll see how that goes. OK, thanks to all the organizers. Really appreciate this opportunity. And it’s been great so far.

So, yes. I’m Andrew Jaeger, PhD candidate in sociology here. My title– the title of my talk today, The Emerging Infrastructure of Carbontech. I’m not super happy with that title. Any suggestions welcome. Let’s see. Advance. There we go.

All right, I want to start with actually kind of a meta theoretical methodological approach relevant to the title of this, our discussion today. In discussing the political economy of climate change in many aspects like infrastructure or political coalitions or various sections of capital, our understandings of what green is have become, I think, somewhat dangerously reified, fixed, taken for granted, right? I mean, I think everyone here would recognize immediately that if we think about solar or wind, like, how green are those actually? That’s socially and politically constructed, right? It’s a starting point here.

The second you say green or fossil, we all here, probably, immediately have in mind a certain set of technologies, a certain set of actors, a certain set of battle lines that are just understood as naturally there. And one of my big arguments in my dissertation is that this is changing. And it’s been changing very quickly over the last five years or so.

Therefore, the usefulness of that heuristic, of green versus fossil, is waning. I do think it has been very useful in the past. But my argument– part of my argument today is that it’s becoming less useful.

And there’s two big reasons for that. One is that there is a far greater variety of technologies that are climate-related that could be considered green, but their greenness is open for debate very much. And the old battle lines, in many ways, are blurring.

As the technologies change– not only because of that, but I think largely because of that– the options for climate action are widening. It’s not just the old story of the fossil fuel industry wanting to go one way, which is basically block all climate legislation, and the climate action being a fairly straightforward task of building out renewables as quickly as possible, electrifying everything as quickly as possible, which, again, from the start, was always a socially, politically constituted strategy that was not– has no inherent greenness to it.

Also, more controversially, we’re arguing today, is that the fossil fuel industry appears to be going green in many ways. All right, advance. Oh, there we go. OK. I’m also going to suggest a different approach to thinking about this rather than just the old opposition between green and fossil, which, again, hasn’t been very useful and has no bearing on these wonderful talks today.

The way that I’ve been thinking about developing– trying to theorize this is to instead start with a different question, which is that, how are competing political actors framing particular climate technologies as green solutions and mobilizing them into broader techno-political projects? And what do I mean by techno-political projects? I’m actually taking out a lot of the [INAUDIBLE] I have to throw out here because of time.

I just want to say that these are basically political– long-term political movements that have embedded within them a vision of the future that they project out. They organize a coalition around that future. And there is a certain set of technologies embedded within that vision.

There’s a tension there, right, which we all recognize when we think about solar and wind. The tech needs to work. The tech needs to be viable. And the tech needs to be profitable. Because otherwise, private industry is not going to invest in it. And we have, as Brett Christopher– if anyone’s there– when was that? Last week– made very clear that profitability is the key metric for private investment, not cheapness, right?

OK, I’m going to shift into the empirical section now. So the first empirical claim here is that there is a new political project that is ascendant. I’m calling it carbontech. It’s organized around a growing set of technologies aimed at capturing, using, storing, and otherwise managing carbon emissions.

There is a lot of hype around this stuff. It comes from Silicon Valley. I’ve written a lot about it. It comes from the state of California, state officials and federal officials, and, in fact, states all around the world, especially at oil states. There is also a lot of critique of this project as it develops.

One of the main critiques, the most common critique, is that this is just literally a scam or a sham. These technologies just aren’t real. I hear that in my field work all the time, where I work with environmental groups, environmental justice groups.

And they have good reason to claim that, right? I mean, the fossil fuel industry, who is one of the main actors arguing for using these technologies, they’re not exactly– this industry is not exactly trustworthy, right? We have good reason to doubt what they’re talking about.

Another set of arguments is that there’s a moral hazard associated with these technologies, right? So when the IPCC, for instance, builds in to their projections of how to reach 1.5 degrees especially, but even 2 degrees, and they put in– and it implies billions of tons of carbon capture by 2050, 2045, 2030, uh, that sounds like it is creating a major incentive for states around the world to slow down on investing in renewables, to slow down the green transition as normally understood.

The other big critique is that this stuff is just too expensive, right? We’re talking about major infrastructure investments here, huge footprints. This photo here is– well, not photo– this rendering here is actually a very important distinction. This is not a real place. This is a rendering.

This is one of the most flashy, in many ways, politically viable and appealing versions of this sort of technology. It’s usually called CDR, or Carbon Dioxide Removal. And it is a purely technological approach to pulling carbon dioxide just out of the atmosphere, right?

So the dream of this stuff is you can put these big air-conditioning sort of systems out anywhere you want. You can build up a bunch of renewables around it. And you can– as long as you have the capital to do this, you can basically pull out as much carbon dioxide out of the air as you can bring money in and power, and to some degree, water.

The debates over this on both sides, the hype– and the hype– and the critics, they don’t have much empirically to go on, right? These are essentially hypothetical speculative debates. There are some exceptions.

That is, basically, within the last 15 years, there have been a number of mega carbon capture projects, mostly on coal and natural gas plants. And those have not gone well. This has gone very poorly, for the most part. And so that is essentially the empirical basis on which this debate has turned.

But in the last couple of years, there has been real movement. These investments, the Silicon Valley hype, these state incentives that have been moving towards investing in this stuff are actually, you know, breaking paydirt, right? They’re actually being deployed to some degree, right?

And so my empirical project here, which I’ve really only been involved in for the last few months– the vast majority of my research has been on the what you might call the political and ideological infrastructure of carbontech, right? The way that it was organized and legitimated around, the way the investments were created around them and hyped around them.

This latest research is really tracking the actual construction of the infrastructure of carbon management in California, which means infrastructure for taking it out of the air or capturing it from industrial sites or agricultural sites, as we’ll be talking about today, transporting it in different ways, processing it, using it, or storing it underground. And this is essentially exploratory research at this point. I’m just really interested in who’s building it, what’s being built, how it’s being built and why.

And the main research activity I’ve been pursuing in the last couple of months with this is essentially building a really big database. And it is pulling from a number of state and federal databases and private investment data which is from PitchBook.

Today, I’m just going to give a broad characterization of the actual progress so far. And then I’m going to zoom in on just one technology which a lot of people do not think of when they talk about carbon management or carbon capture, but is actually by far the most prevalent form of it in California and, in fact, in the US.

All right. So before I– let me look at my notes here. Yes, before I jump into this– OK. So this next chart is going to show evidence from California’s Sequoia database. This is essentially our big major database. Any time there is a big– well, even a medium-sized, I would say, project. Any project that might have some kind of impact on the environment, you need to usually pull a Sequioa permit.

And all those permits are available online. I have downloaded all of them since 2000. There’s about 280,000 permits. And so I’ve been processing through those. And this is the result so far. And you should– while the actual numbers are definitely– this is an alpha version, I would not– I would take them with a grain of salt still at this point. Yes, just take them with a grain of salt at this point.

The general direction that it shows I think is still valid. And it is fairly clear. I want to make just a few points here. One is that– yes, I think that’s still– it’s not visible enough. I can say more. I’ll say more.

The first half of the– the aughts saw very little investment on this. We’ve been increasing more or less linearly since 2000. And there has been a major– point number two, industrial CCS. There’s four project types up here. Three are types of digesters. Those are fairly simple, relatively simple carbon capture systems.

They actually capture methane, which is CH4 for greenhouse gas of course, from landfills, from wastewater sites and from agricultural sites, especially dairies. And if you look here, you can see there’s been an enormous growth in the use of dairy digesters in California, especially over the last five years.

The third point is that industrial carbon capture and storage, which is what that shiny direct air capture carbon dioxide removal plant would fall under, is actually fairly rare. There are only about– I count about 10 big industrial carbon capture projects, real projects that have actually been built to some degree over 24 years, and several of them– those over the last few years. That is very new. It is difficult to say much about that infrastructure at this point, though I can say something about them. I have been researching.

So let’s look at dairy digesters. Again, this is by far the most prevalent form and the form that has been growing the most rapidly over the last five years. What are these? Most simplest form, these are tarps over manure. These are still– I said simple. These are still multi-million dollar investments, $4 or $5 million per dairy on average.

Because once you capture this, what’s called biogas, from the cow manure, you have to process it quite a bit. And you have to have some kind of transportation network set up to actually turn it into what’s called renewable natural gas. And once that’s been done, it is more or less interchangeable with regular old natural gas.

And that is used for two things. One, the thing it’s been most used for is it’s compressed and it’s used in certain vehicles, especially buses and heavy duty trucks. They’re actually natural gas– you’ve probably never– I’ve never actually been to one of these fueling sites but they do exist, where you can actually fill up truck or bus with compressed natural gas and run a somewhat cleaner vehicle with it.

The other is, simply, it is blended into by utilities into the natural gas supply. That’s a relatively new thing. All of this is driven by California State subsidies and regulations. Hundreds of million dollars in tax breaks– I think that’s an– in tax breaks, rents and regulatory credits. I actually think this is an underestimate. I’m working on trying to get a better investment of this.

The growth– over here, this is pulled. Another part of the data set here pulled from EPA and California Department of Agriculture sites shows– I think that’s fairly visible– the last few years just are almost– it looks like an exponential rise in these things. And that is essentially because, first, there was a major [INAUDIBLE] in 2015 when California State implemented a new program that gives grants for the development of these. It unlocked a lot of financing.

There was also a change to the regulation that gives credits to these projects for the natural gas that they sell into the transportation system, which made these projects far more valuable. So the profitability of these projects directly obviously drove– is driving investment. And that profitability is determined not by any kind of market forces whatsoever, but by regulatory credits, right? This is a knob that is turned by the state by CAR– yes, by CAR, the California Air Resources Board.

What else can we say about this? It’s geographically concentrated. It’s almost entirely in the San Joaquin Valley, which is just north of Caylee’s site. This is the center of the California– the current center of the California dairy and oil industry. And they are clustered within the San Joaquin Valley.

And this is due to, basically, economies of scale. So what happens is the digesters are located on each of these dairies. And they pipe to some kind of central facility, where the processing happens. And then it is piped off to be used in these fueling sites– two minutes, OK– or to the actual utilities directly.

As these are concentrated in these areas, they’re also concentrating, more or less, environmental injustice in those areas, which are already some of the most horrible sites of, you know, air and water pollution in the state. The environmental justice movement in California has been fighting these things for years, years and years.

What else? What can we say about the investment here? Who is actually building these things? Well, there’s a firm called CalBioGas. It’s the largest developer. They’ve led at least 73 of the 170 active projects. I think it’s probably more than that too. Again, still working on this.

Who’s CalBioGas? Well, they’re a joint venture between California Bioenergy, which is a long-standing, you know, tech alternative fuel firm who mostly specializes in developing dairy digesters. And they have actually developed some of the technology for dairy digesters. And they’ve developed the expertise to manage these projects. So it’s really California Bioenergy which is doing the legwork of developing these projects. But Chevron has been a financial partner since at least 2020.

And one of the great– my research findings scoops here is, you know, it’s known publicly that there’s been a joint venture between Chevron and California bioenergy for all these years. They’ve actually entered into multiple joint ventures. But when an LLC like that enters into a joint venture, you can’t actually tell, like, what kind of equity which partner has, for instance.

And, actually, luckily, thanks to state filings where they– every single time they build one of these clusters, California Bioenergy, they applied for a tax break from the state of California. And when the state of California reviews those at a public meeting, they always publish their agenda with appendices for each of the tax breaks that they are considering.

And they always include the ownership structure of whoever they’re thinking of giving tax breaks to. And so I’ve actually never seen this reported before. But CalBioGas is about 56% Chevron. So most– in other words, the main owner of most of these clusters of dairy digesters is Chevron.

OK, wrapping up, the main point I wanted to make today. The leading edge of carbontech infrastructure, that we usually think of carbon capture as this shiny stuff, direct air capture and so on, it’s actually far less glamorous than that. It’s basically tarps over manure.

Digesters have been the leading edge of carbontech infrastructure in California. There’s been– there was a slow development of them over the aughts, increasing in 2010, and really an explosion in the last five or so years.

Why do I think this has happened? Well, first of all, they plug and play with the existing infrastructure, right? That renewable natural gas can plug right into the existing fossil infrastructure, which will be with us for even longer the longer that this– the more successful this project is, right?

The other reason, this solves a major problem for both of those industries. On one hand, all of these mega industrial dairies have a lot of manure that they have to handle. That’s actually just a problem that they– it’s a cost to them that they have had to deal with forever. This turns that cost into a profit center. They just get a revenue stream from this.

They don’t even have to manage. In most cases, they don’t even manage these digesters, right? It’s CalBio that manages the digesters. They don’t even really do any of the legwork. Other reason– yeah. Yeah, I’ll stop with the reasons there.

The other big point I want to say is that industrial carbon capture is probably next because it’s following the same sort of trajectory that the digesters followed. They recently have won major state and federal subsidies.

You’ve probably heard about them in the bipartisan infrastructure law and IRA from the federal level. California has been trying to subsidize– trying to get industrial carbon capture off the ground here for a long time. And there is now real serious money going into that from the state, from federal, and from Silicon Valley and other private investors.

They also are just about to clear some major regulatory hurdles in California. I was down in Bakersfield just a couple of weeks ago at some of the big public hearings. OK, I will– I’m ending here. And they’re just about to clear the big hurdle. They’re about to be able to store all the carbon they want to capture underground. This is a major deal. They’ve been trying to do this for years.

The last point, carbon capture can be both expensive and profitable. It kind of doesn’t matter how expensive it is. That’s one of the main arguments that’s been made against it. But as Brett Christopher was saying last week, to tie in to my initial point, profitability itself is socially and politically constructed, right? The viability of this stuff depends on maintaining those strong state subsidies.

I am, in some ways, committed to the idea that I think that this stuff is really growing, right? That’s been my argument for a long time. I think that the trajectory for growth is still there for a long time. But this is the weak point for those of us who think this is not the way that we should be going. It’s the subsidies and it’s the construction of this stuff as green. Thanks.


[DANIEL ALDANA COHEN] OK. [CLEARS THROAT] Thank you so much for three wonderful presentations. We’ve been talking a lot. So let’s just open it up actually right away and see if folks up here have questions. Julia has a mic.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] It’s for Andrew, my question actually. He explained how state incentives can expand the construction of dairy digestive sites and all of that. Could you explain a little bit more what are those incentives and if they could be utilized for other areas in, like, greener infrastructure, such as solar panels or something like that. Thank you.

[ANDERW JAEGER] OK. Yes, thank you for that question. So the two big subsidies– well, there are three big subsidies really. One is the grant program which comes from the state, which gives grants to project developers who are spending $5, $10, $20 million on centralized facilities and for processing this gas and building out the actual digesters at the dairies.

It’s considered an advanced technology. This is the same tax credit that gives money to chip fabricators and solar energy labs. Actually, I don’t know if you know Solyndra, the scandalous multi $100 million California solar firm. One of their early grants from this program was to Solyndra.

The other big subsidy is– actually, the major subsidy is called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. And it is kind of complicated. I don’t want to take up all the time talking about it. But essentially, it is a subsidy for what are considered green alternative fuels. And this stuff is considered a green alternative fuel.

And the calculation that the state makes, more or less arbitrarily, of how green it is determines how much subsidy they get, and therefore the investment in this stuff. And in terms of solar, yes, there are also many subsidies for solar as well and things like this. But I think they’re insufficient.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you. Three very, very good presentations. I kind of– it kind of goes to all three of you, the question. And then I have a comment, and that is the responsibility of owning the energy infrastructure.

And I was thinking in your case, I would think there must be some responsibility somewhere with the sort of– for me, coming from Norway, it’s very strange that you can live above an oil well. So I’m just wondering, how does that work with the responsibility?

And Jonathan, you talked about mostly solar and also wind. And two weeks ago– or last week, Brett Christopher was here and said that– and presented a book, where he said that we don’t pay enough attention to the infrastructure. So with now the electrification of society, we have this very much focused on like, how can we make wind and solar profitable? But the infrastructure is kind of also a very big question and challenge.

So, for example, I can give one example from Norway today. We have just had gave money to the first very heavily subsidized offshore wind licensing. And the connector only goes to Norway– even though it, like, it would make would make it much more profitable if you also sent it to Netherlands, to Denmark. And this is because it becomes so politically contested. But it’s just one example. And then so I’m just wondering if you could comment something about– if that plays into your case with how much does the infrastructure cost in India or if it’s relevant at all.

And then, Andrew, I see also a lot of the political and economic drivers of the energy transition and the whole. I really liked being challenged on the green versus fossil industry and how we think about it. And if I can find my question here.

Well, I think what makes it simpler when you talk about CCS over geoengineering, it’s actually become something we can relate to. And it also has an infrastructure, where it’s kind of co-benefiting. But I’m wondering, like, if there’s any emphasis on this other– we have this different silver bullet. So CCS is one. What about blue hydrogen? Is there any talk about that here? It’s like the new bus.

So blue hydrogen is natural gas, where you take out the CO2 and store it somewhere. And that becomes– I’m from an oil state– or now gas. That’s what we pride ourselves of. And this is driving the development for new– this becomes a major argument. So the oil industry, oil and gas industry, will now drill for more gas in the long-term.

Now it’s going to be sent to Europe as the gas they need, natural gas they need. And then we’re going to carbon capture it. And I think it’s a very valid point with IPCC giving this leverage, which makes everything more complicated for what is green and what is brown and et cetera.

[CAYLEE HONG] Yeah, sure. Thank you for the question. So legally, it’s extremely clear that an owner or operator of a well is responsible. So that responsibility comes out through the polluter pays principle in California. But also, in individual leases, there’s almost always an obligation to decommission.

The problem, of course, is that we’ve seen in California, and really all over North America, is that oil and gas operators, whether they’re these– in my presentation, I’m talking about operators that drilled 100 years ago. They were mostly individuals. Some of them were hand-digging holes. They didn’t even have the technology to drill. So that’s exceptional.

But really, what’s happening nowadays is a kind of three-fold way in which responsibility is ceded, including in places like LA still. One is that, like we saw with my case study, the operator just disappears. Like, there’s no– as a corporation, they just– you can’t even find them. They’re gone.

More commonly, they go bankrupt, right? So there’s all sorts of loopholes and legal debates about how decommissioning obligations or environmental responsibilities gets paid out in this sort of waterfall of priority in a bankruptcy. But as recent cases in California show, usually, operators, because there’s never enough money to go around, will not end up paying for decommissioning costs. So that goes on to the state.

And third, what’s even probably more common, and which a lot of organizers and the state is paying attention to, is the transfer of these old wells to a smaller producer. So for example, Chevron, the California Resources Corporation, Exxon, large, well-capitalized firms, what they typically do is will sell down to smaller and smaller operators. And then that– at the end of this chain, they will go bankrupt.

So California, for example, has passed legislation to try to prevent those transfers where wells can’t be bonded. But yeah, there’s a major distinction between– or gap– between what’s legally required and what actually happens in practice when it comes to responsibility.

[JOHNATHAN GUY] I think the question was about, what’s the role of cost in– oh, like supplementary, like investments for wind and solar, like, in terms of grid management. Yeah, I think– I guess the way I think about this politically is that it’s another upfront cost. And it’s the one that is really a public good in the sense that everyone benefits from it because it increases the connectivity of the infrastructure.

And what’s interesting is that in India, we see a much more sustained effort to upgrade the grid and to also– and also in grid storage. I think that there are kind of two reasons why this is happening. One that I alluded to is that the central government isn’t fiscally constrained in the same way that these states are. They have the ability to make investments. And they don’t face this kind of subsidy trap that the states do.

And then second is that, basically, India is trying to diversify upstream into all these sorts of technologies in energy storage, in green hydrogen. And I think that there’s the potential to create new rents there and to benefit these firms. I think there’s also a security component to the story, like trying to– because a lot of these– like, green hydrogen has crossover benefits, spillover benefits in defense. So yeah, those would be my guesses. Yeah, thank you.

[ANDREW JAEGER] Thanks. Yes. There’s a lot I can say about that, but I’ll be– I’ll be quick. Yes, hydrogen is– there’s a lot of hype around hydrogen here as well for very similar reasons. And actually, one of the main reasons– one of the main arguments against these dairy digesters that are being deployed right now is that they are undermining the push for green hydrogen.

Because they more or less function– the RNG that’s produced more or less functions as an offset that the blue hydrogen producers can use to prevent– you know, to release themselves of their regulatory burden, right? Yeah, I think I’ve talked a lot. So I’ll stop there.

[DANIEL ALDANA COHEN] Good. Thank you, thank you. My voice has gone missing. All right, we’re at 1:27. So I will make one brief remark and then we’ll wrap this up. And if folks want to talk more with the panelists afterwards, please do. I have zillions of questions for all of you which we’ll get to in the shortness of time because we don’t have time anymore.

I think this panel confirms my feeling that the relationship between humans, capitalism and the planet can be summarized in just two words, which would be built environment, and that those two words, built environment, also named the common ground almost literally between almost all scholarly projects around the climate question. So I think it’s really fascinating to have three very different approaches coming from three very different disciplines, different questions. But they all kind of converge on the fights over the literal reconstruction of our physical interface with the planet.

So this has been super provocative. I think in the longer conversations that we’ll be having over the years, I think it’ll be really interesting to think about the disciplinary resources, but also obstacles to the research programs we’ve laid out here. Because I see you all transgressing conventional scholarly boundaries and research programs in ways that are very exciting. And I wonder how universities can change to more– to enable the kind of work that you’re doing so that this research program can flourish to help us all face down these emergencies.

Thank you all very much for coming– Julia for organizing the Matrix, Chuck, who’s hiding behind a wall, making this all work. And thank you again once again for coming, being part of this conversation. And let’s keep this going. Thanks.


[WOMAN’S VOICE] Thank you for listening. For more information about Social Science Matrix, please visit


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