New SSHRC-Funded Research Project at STU Examines Contesting Energy Discourse  

Clive Baldwin, Janice Harvey, Andrew Second and Susan O'Donnell

A new research project is examining how adding more voices to the media discourse about energy transitions can help New Brunswickers make better choices about their future.

Contesting Energy Discourses through Action Research (CEDAR) is a five-year project studying energy transitions in Canada with a focus on New Brunswick and is funded by a $375,000 SSHRC Insight Grant. The project is led by Dr. Susan O’Donnell, Dr. Janice Harvey, Dr. Andrew Secord, and Dr. Clive Baldwin at St. Thomas University, as well as researchers J.P. Sapinski at the Université de Moncton and M.V. Ramana at the University of British Columbia.

“Canadians are experiencing floods, wildfires, droughts and other extreme weather events due to a changing climate. Climate change caused by humans is linked to burning fossil fuels for energy. The science is clear that we need to rapidly reduce our use of fossil fuels. How will we do this? What kind of future do we want,” said Dr. O’Donnell, who is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Environment & Society program at STU.

“New Brunswick is in a period of energy transition, with different paths to follow, and choices must be made,” added Dr. Janice Harvey, who is an Assistant Professor in the Environment & Society program. “Our research will help to ensure that more voices are included in this important conversation about which energy path is best for New Brunswick.” 


Studying How Contesting Discourses are Framed in the MediaThe media – corporate, independent, alternative and social media – feature competing discourses about the energy transitions. CEDAR is studying: how these contesting discourses for energy transitions are framed in the media; the networks of actors, organizations and institutions promoting the dominant discourses; and how action research can produce and publish counter discourses in the media and contribute to a more democratic media environment. The dominant energy discourses promote continued economic growth, centralized energy production, new nuclear plants and plutonium reprocessing, fossil fuels or biomass paired with carbon capture and sequestration technologies, and using fossil energy such as fracked gas as a “transition fuel” to low-carbon energy in the distant future. At the other end of the spectrum, other discourses promote energy conservation, reductions in aggregate energy use, decentralized and community-based renewable energy generation, autonomy and control over energy access, and ending social and environmental injustices related to energy production and consumption. “New Brunswick is an ideal location for our research,” O’Donnell explained. “The province is home to the largest oil refinery in Canada. The provincial government wants to lift a ban on fracking despite widespread opposition by rural and Indigenous communities. The government and public utility NB Power want to operate a coal-fired energy plant beyond the 2030 federal phase out deadline. Provincial plans for climate action centre speculative nuclear reactors while rhetorically and financially undermining the potential for renewable energy to meet New Brunswick’s power needs.” The research team’s research methods build on existing relationships with climate activists and Indigenous leaders. Together they are exploring how research on discourses of energy transitions can amplify activist and marginalized voices and visions for a more sustainable future.The research team will also be offering research opportunities to students. “Most of the funding will be spent on students, providing them with interesting and engaging employment as research assistants while they continue their studies. The funding will also help them travel with their supervisors to academic conferences to co-present the research findings,” Harvey said. For more information about Contesting Energy Discourses through Action Research, please visit the project website