Now I'd like to share more about this amazing man, how he works, and how he created Grassroots Energy.
In the late 1990s, I made 12 videos for a distance learning version of my course Ecological Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. I made these with the assistance of my wife, Ursula, my colleague Paul Eide in University Media Resources, and research assistant Tis Stringer. To make these videos, we used 16 mm movie film, 35 mm slide/still film, and audio tape that Ursula and I had taken over years of anthropological field research in the USA, Kenya, Germany, and other places. Our practice has been to complement written note taking with film and audio recording during this field research. We draw upon our film and tape library to present lectures in class and also to make films and videos for use in class and in distance learning. In recent years, we have digitized film and analog tape to make programs that can be presented via computer.
It is thus that we made the Ecological Anthropology program Grassroots Energy. I introduce and then conclude the movie with still photos and voice over narration. The movie itself is 27 minutes long, originally a 16 mm film. We filmed during our field research. We began research and recording in August 1974, shortly after farmers and townsfolk in West Central Minnesota learned that Cooperative and United Power had applied to state authorities for permits to build a +/-400kVDC line from a mine mouth plant in North Dakota across their land to a AC converter facility in a Minneapolis suburb. We continued research and recording through the construction and energizing of the line and early response in 1980. The film focuses on the period 1976-1978, when resistance to the line was most intense and widespread.
Filming in the field and making slide shows and movies in the era before digital imaging presented problems not experienced by the users of digital cameras. Instead of being able to take countless pictures and see the results immediately, one had to ration film and wait until processing to determine if one “got it or not.” One had to keep film – and batteries - cool in the summer and warm in the winter. And it was obvious to all that one was taking pictures or recording audio. In any event, we observed the cardinal and ethical rule of anthropology: to get informed consent of those photographed.
Before we released the film about the CU transmission line issue and resistance to it, we showed it to those involved in the resistance.
A citizen’s organization in Wisconsin concerned with electricity production, distribution and use asked me if it could show the Grassroots Energy movie for a fundraiser. After some deliberation, I agreed. I then also agreed that a blog concerned with electricity transmission issues could provide access to this movie. Further, I have included clips from the movie as well as other information about the CU case in a presentation to a workshop on transmission held in part by Edison Electric Institute.
I am now working to make available more of my published and unpublished material, print and audiovisual, on transmission and other energy issues.
Luther P. Gerlach, PhD
Professor emeritus of Anthropology, University of Minnesota
My studies of public response to electricity transmission lines is part of my broader study of the interplay of social movements and established orders in the management of technological and ecological risk and resource use locally, regionally and globally. Thus, I examine how the interplay between advocates and opponents of transmission grid expansion produces debate about the energy future and shapes this future.
I have studied social movements, ecological adaptation, and related cultural change in the USA, Germany, and along the Kenya coast. Following undergraduate and graduate study at the University of Minnesota, I served as a US Army officer in the Far East and a US government researcher in Germany. I then attended the University of London, particularly its School of Oriental and African Studies and also its London School of Economics, receiving certificates in African Law(Islamic Law Option) and Swahili, and a PhD in Cultural Anthropology (1960), following field research in Kenya. In addition to my professorship in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, I have been visiting professor at the Environmental Quality Lab of the California Institute of Technology, the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Science Center, Berlin, Germany.
Luther's research, writings and film come closest that I have ever seen to capturing the feelings and purpose of people and groups who oppose transmission lines. He has an understanding and appreciation for both sides of the energy debate, and studying his work should propel us along toward solutions.
Instead, it appears that we are poised to make the same mistakes about centralized renewables that we made with centralized fossil fuel generation decades ago. Why must the few sacrifice for the many when there are better solutions available? Only when we understand social movements and energy equality can we learn from history and stop making the same mistakes over and over.
Dr. Gerlach has a huge body of work, some of which I've had the pleasure to read and ponder, and I hope he continues to make more of his published and unpublished works available. There's so much to be learned!
Some of Dr. Gerlach's publications pertinent to social movements and energy for further reading:
Gerlach, Luther P, 2014. Public Reaction to Electricity Transmission Lines, Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, Elsevier, 2014. 21-Mar-14 doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-409548-9.09111-9.
Gerlach, L. P. (1999). The structure of social movements: Environmental activism and its opponents. In Waves of Protest: Social Movements since the Sixties. (J. Freeman and V. Johnson, Eds.), pp. 85–97. Rowan & Littlefield, NY
Gerlach, Luther P., and David Bengston. 1994. “If Ecosystem Management Is the Solution, What Is the Problem?” Journal of Forestry 92, no. 8 (August): 18–21.
Gerlach, L. & Palmer, G. (1981). Adaptation through evolving interdependence, pp 323-381 in Nystrom P.C, & Starbuck W. Handbook of organizational design, vol 1. Adapting 0rganizations to their environments. New York, Oxford Press
Gerlach, Luther P. (1979). Energy Wars and Social Change, in Predicting Sociocultural Change, Susan Abbot and John van Willigen, eds. Southern Anthropological Society Proceedings #13. Athens: University of Georgia Press
Gerlach, L.P. 1978 Gerlach, Luther P. (1978). “The Great Energy Standoff.” Natural History 87 (January).
Gerlach, Luther P., and Virginia H. Hine. 1973. Lifeway Leap: The Dynamics of Change in America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gerlach, Luther P., and Virginia H. Hine. 1970. People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.
Gerlach LP and Eide P (1978) Grassroots Energy, 16-mm 27- minute, sound, color film. University of Minnesota Media Resources. Distributed by Penn State University Film.
We all owe Dr. Gerlach and his wife many thanks for their capable documentation and thoughtful commentary on our energy wars. Now, let's do it better this time around as we move toward a cleaner, more democratic energy future!