Overline: Fellowship
Headline: A Feminist Look at the Energy Transition

Gender justice is key for the transition to a more sustainable energy system, says Cara Daggett. During a one-year fellowship at the Research Institute for Sustainability, the political scientist is researching how policymakers can foster social structures that facilitate decarbonization.

Cara Daggett
Cara Daggett RIFS/Bianca Schröder

Fossil fuels are more than an industry that generates gigantic profits. In Daggett’s view, their use also helped create a mindset that believes that humans should put nature to work. Those who profited most as leaders in this way of doing business were mainly white men in industrialized countries: some were at the highest level of governments and oil companies; many more made good money as skilled workers. However, this does not mean that men are naturally predisposed to a fossil fuel mindset. Instead, Daggett studies how intensive energy use and patriarchal imperialism are structures that develop together and reinforce each other. They connect the exploitation of nature, of women, and of the colonies.

Authoritarian movements put the brakes on structural change

In her essay "Petromasculinity. Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire" (2018), Daggett, a professor of political science at Virginia Tech, examined the relationship between dominant masculinity and the power of the fossil fuel industry. She showed that resistance to a more sustainable energy system is closely linked to new authoritarian movements shaped by racism, misogyny, and climate change denial. The lack of influence of women on the development of the energy system is a symptom of this broader problem.

Daggett’s goal during her Fellowship is to outline alternatives for a more just and sustainable energy system from a feminist perspective. The title of her project, which she will carry out with two co-authors from Virginia Tech, is "Feminist Energy: Gendered Dimensions of Solar and Wind Development”. In keeping with the RIFS approach, the work is interdisciplinary and includes case studies of structural change processes in different regions.

Integrating labour and energy policy

Daggett’s research focus is far broader than the issue of women's representation in leadership positions. "Equal participation is important, but having women on the boards of energy companies doesn't change the structures that are built on the idea of a never-ending and cheap stream of fossil fuels, and that concentrate wealth at the expense of other people and things," Daggett says. She wants to question these structures and develop alternatives.

A particularly important issue is the labour market. "Societal approval of fossil fuel subsidies hinges heavily on the argument that the petrochemical industry creates jobs. I am interested in what would happen if other avenues for paid work were created, such as a shorter working week, a universal income, or more support for traditionally female jobs that are currently poorly paid, such as care work." Such measures are not normally included in energy policy but are in fact an important part of it. After all, Daggett says, fossil fuels have become a dead end not only for the planet but also for the goal of middle-class jobs.