New Summer, old winter:
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The promotion of “cleaner” cookstoves over “traditional” biomass-based cookstoves represents an ongoing effort to achieve sustainable energy transitions. Because biomass-based cookstoves adversely affect health and contribute to climate change, governments and NGOs have made considerable efforts to promote more efficient and less polluting “cleaner” cookstoves. However, in India, over 30 years of targeted programs have not led to the sustained adoption and use of these cookstoves. Most programs assume that the cost of “cleaner” cookstoves is what hinders their adoption, belying a pro-innovation bias that frames the issue as lack of access to new technology. Little research has gone into understanding how people actually make decisions about cookstove and fuel use, how people learn about cookstoves, and how cookstoves are integrated into larger socio-ecological systems. In this dissertation, I explore how cookstoves and fuel use are situated in larger energy landscapes. I focus on cookstove diffusion in Lug Valley, a micro-watershed in Himachal Pradesh, India. Each of the three data chapters explores a different dimension of the energy landscape using a different analytical framework. First, I explore cultural dimensions of the energy landscape by using cultural consensus analysis to understand people’s shared beliefs about fuelwood and cookstove use. Second, combining cultural consensus analysis with social network analysis, I explore the relational dimensions of the energy landscape by charting how information about cookstoves flows across the study area while contrasting the beliefs of those promoting cookstoves with those adopting them. Lastly, using an agent-based model, I explore how cookstove use relates to forest biomass and how those relationships may change under future scenarios of increased rates of cookstove adoption. This dissertation advances an interdisciplinary approach to the study of sustainable energy transitions that questions many of the assumptions currently plaguing cookstove research and diffusion programs. I argue that promoting such transitions necessitates understanding the multiple ways that innovations integrate with people’s lived experiences and the different meanings they assume. Only by approaching energy transitions from multiple perspectives, we can move beyond the traditional/clean and old/new dichotomies that currently obscure the full panoramic view of energy landscapes in developing countries.