Waste to energy

Garbage prospects and subjunctive politics in late‐industrial Baltimore

by CHLOE AHMANN

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If it had been built, the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project would have been the largest trash incinerator in the United States, burning 4,000 tons of waste each day in late‐industrial Baltimore. When it was first proposed, two discourses of renewal coalesced around the project. One was propagated by technocrats who argued incineration should be regulated as a renewable technology. Another emerged among working‐class whites who hoped the plant would reinvigorate their ailing economy. Both discourses hinged on comparisons with the past and maneuvers between futures near and far, gaining ground through subjunctive politics. Recast in this light, both technocratic dreams and local narratives of waste, race, and decline betray a deep ambivalence about the sorts of futures that seem plausible within a geography of “undesirables.”

Garbage litters Hazel Street in Curtis Bay, Baltimore, 2014.
Garbage litters Hazel Street in Curtis Bay, Baltimore, 2014. (Goldman Foundation)