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Experts at work : the Canadian state, North American environmentalism, and renewable energy in an era of limits, 1968-1983 Trim, Henry


This study examines the emergence of sustainable development and renewable energy in Canada during the 1970s and the interplay between environmental politics, state structures, and intellectual discourse which made this emergence possible. The dissertation focuses on two events, the construction of the New Alchemists’ Ark on Prince Edward Island with the help of the provincial and federal governments, and the Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources’ $600 million (in 1978 dollars) subsidy program for renewable energy. These events provide a lens into North American environmental politics, the policymaking of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government, and the intellectual influence of Cold War science on the early foundations of sustainability in the 1970s. I make four interconnected arguments about the nature of environmental politics, expert authority, the Trudeau government, and sustainability in this dissertation. First, the Trudeau government embraced the Cold War rationality of the 1960s and attempted to reorganize Canadian governance around objective analysis in an effort to transform policymaking into an exercise in calculation rather than political compromise. This privileging of technical and scientific knowledge that enhanced the authority of experts leads to my second argument. The state’s ability to shape discourse through ideology and policy feedbacks encouraged specific forms of environmental politics and, as a result, privileged an influential minority of environmentalists in the 1970s. Third, rather than rejecting or attacking this highly technocratic approach to policy, some environmentalists embraced it. These groups employed the technical knowledge preferred by the Trudeau government – modeling and forecasting – to conceptualize and advocate sustainable development. Fourth, government advisors worked directly with these technocratic environmentalists to champion renewables, thereby making Canadian sustainable development a co-production of government analysts and environmental advocates. Furthermore, the successes of renewable energy and sustainability in the 1970s rested upon the work of Cold War scientists, a formalist approach to rationality, and a belief in the efficacy of planning, as much as environmental concern.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada