Carbon claims and energy landscapes: Exploring the political ecology of biomass

Dan van der Horst, James Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The greatest proportion (83%) of renewable energy in the UK is derived from biomass. Despite this there has been little debate over the potential landscape impacts of biomass, and the sector is characterized by considerable levels of uncertainty. This paper explores the ways in which biomass is framed within the carbon debate, interrogating the trade-offs and conflicts surrounding the production of dedicated and subsidized energy crops. Drawing upon a political ecology framework, we seek to explore the difference that a specific energy crop, Miscanthus, makes in current debates over bioenergy. We outline how the ecology of the plant plays a critical role in structuring the political, ecological and economic adoption of biomass energy, focusing on its status as a new species in the UK. Taking a case study of a Yorkshire landscape long dominated by coal, we explore the context of recent developments in biomass energy. Through this case study we examine how the uncertain ecology of Miscanthus undermines claims concerning the economic viability of biomass, and trace how the potential production of an 'alien' landscape creates a series of social and ecological tensions. The paper concludes by reflecting upon the political ecology of carbon, suggesting that the example of this energy crop highlights the way in which carbon tends to be fetishized, or removed from its social, ecological and (thus) place specific context, within current energy debates. © 2010 Landscape Research Group Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-193
Number of pages20
JournalLandscape Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • Alien landscape
  • Biomass energy
  • Coal
  • Miscanthus
  • Political ecology
  • Uncertainty


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