by Sarah leBarron
As I walk into Old School Amsterdam, I feel instantly at home. Coffee vapors float around me, pulling me towards the barista cart. I’m handed a steaming cup of vegan cappuccino, the almond milk infusing a slight strangeness to the flavor as I swallow, a strangeness I have come to appreciate. For some attendees of 02025’s energy breakfasts, the vegan beverages connect the theme of renewable energy back to the earth. But for others, the link to nature is minor compared to the technology itself. Though subtle, this diversity of thought in Amsterdam’s renewable energy community can have significant impacts on its mission. During my fieldwork on community organization for renewable energy in Amsterdam in the spring of 2020, I came to study these differences more closely.
On the one hand, there is a group of renewable energy advocates who paint their lives in water color, blending the technology with concepts of earth and living things. Meanwhile, there is another faction that views the world in blocks and angles. Resistant to matching soft grass with hard machinery in a shared puzzle, they separate them into distinct categories.
During my interviews, I began to notice these differences among my respondents. For instance, one individual told me that she had always been diligent with gardening and composting, so she purchased solar panels to compliment these efforts. Several others likewise twisted renewable energy and environmentalism into a single pretzel when they spoke. However, some of my other respondents could not relate to this intertwining of earth and energy, as they saw the technology as just another engineering sector. A few interviewees even expressed distaste for different environmental concerns coming into renewable energy organizations.
Despite this tension, what I have witnessed during my research is that the energy transition actually benefits from this variety in viewpoint. Take for example my two research participants Zoe and Tim. They view the world in very different ways, yet this contrast in thought allows them to tackle the energy transition from multiple angles.
Zoe is motivated by an inner compass of environmental justice. Upset by the climate damage caused by fossil fuels, she joined a lawsuit to limit their production in the Netherlands. After the case was won, she realized that “the government was in a panic” trying to find new energy sources. So she decided to specialize in alternative energy solutions and is currently pushing the government to choose sustainable options. By pursuing her ideals, Zoe has been able to guide the country’s energy system to a cleaner future.
In contrast, my respondent Tim is excited by the technology itself. Being a member of his local wind cooperative, he wants to curb climate emissions, yet he prefers to focus solely on the energy and keep out other environmental concerns. Though ironically, once Tim’s wind cooperative became profitable, it began investing in other green initiatives for the neighborhood such as electric car sharing, tire pumps and insulation. Tim himself has devoted significant time to these side projects. An expert on the subject once explained to me that when people become involved in cooperatives, it motivates them to participate in even more community activities.
If Zoe’s environmentalism is like the sphere of a planetarium, an all-encompassing backdrop to her actions, then Tim’s technological focus is comparable to the chairs placed under the screen, constrained by gravity and bolted to the here and now. Yet both of these elements come together to create the entire planetarium experience, just as each viewpoint is vital for progress on the renewable energy movement. Prioritizing the climate spurs new solutions that protect the environment, while focusing on technological development stimulates capital and interest for other projects. These two opposing camps of thought ensure that both priorities are considered: the environmental purpose behind renewable energy cannot be forgotten, just as the energy’s technological potential should not be ignored.
Sarah leBarron is an alumna of the Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She did research about energy transition in the Netherlands.