Landscapes of lost energy: counterfactual geographical imaginary for a more sustainable society

Dan van der Horst*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The quest for sustainable energy, one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century, calls for more input from academics than 'simply' producing good science. Geographical imaginations are as old as storytelling and mapmaking, but this essay is neither about 'long ago and far away', nor about utopian energy futures. This is a call to geographers to engage with 'alternative present' energy scenarios, using the full range of analytical and discursive tools at our disposal. Drawing on a diverse tradition of imagined spaces and the awareness of absences (material, relational or otherwise), geographers should be able to contribute to the quest for a more sustainable society by assessing, envisaging, and communicating a counterfactual 'here and now', based on good practices existing right now, but not (yet) right here. We need to understand how much more sustainable our bit of the planet would be if we could just, environmentally speaking, 'keep up' with the best of our neighbours. This counterfactual present should be seen as neither radical nor utopian, because it only assumes the historic adoption of best practices which we now know to be feasible and successful. And if this alternative current scenario looks radically different from the 'real' state we are in, then this goes to show how radically unsustainable our business-as-usual approach has been.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-72
Number of pages7
JournalMoravian geographical reports
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • counterfactual
  • imagery
  • imagination
  • energy literacy


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