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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dam to delta : visualizing landscapes of decarbonization in the Saaghii Naachii/Peace River region, Canada Robb, Douglas


This dissertation analyzes how decarbonization in Canada is mutually co-constitutive with processes of landscape change. Drawing from interdisciplinary scholarship in human geography and landscape architecture, with a focus on digital technologies of landscape visualization and manipulation, this dissertation critically analyzes how contemporary decarbonization agendas (re)produce conditions of uneven development and socioecological instability. Chapter 2 explores how the historical formation of energy landscapes in Canada’s boreal region continues to influence design proposals for the low-carbon transition, often at the expense of Indigenous communities and fragile ecologies. Chapter 3 calls attention to the pervasive tendency to depict human impacts upon Earth though highly abstract and aestheticized visualizations; a deeply depoliticizing practice I term planetary voyeurism. Chapter 4 builds upon this critique through a meta-review of water-energy nexus visualizations: a resource governance framework that claims to comprehensively depict relational linkages between energy generation and water use, yet which often elides the spatial, temporal, and hydrosocial dimensions of landscape. Lastly, Chapter 5 investigates the potential to misread and depoliticize strategies of putative decarbonization which may not, in fact, be carbon neutral; particularly when the cumulative effects of broader landscape transformations are considered. Through these analyses, this dissertation advances a place-based approach to decarbonization grounded in three key arguments: 1) decarbonization is constituted by and through relational landscapes characterized by shifting social, political, and ecological interrelationships; 2) technology is a powerful instrument of landscape change, and innovative digital tools of landscape perception and visualization can mitigate (or reinforce) processes of spatial injustice through the production of low-carbon technonatures and socionatures; and 3) decarbonization presents an opportunity to decentre human beings in the design and construction of built environments. Taken together, these arguments seek to challenge conventional approaches to decarbonization, elucidate more just and inclusive energy transition pathways, and advance more-than-human approaches to the design of post-carbon futures.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International