A radical analysis of our master-and-slave relationship to energy and a call for
Ancient civilizations routinely relied on shackled human muscle. It took the
energy of slaves to plant crops, clothe emperors, and build cities. In the early
nineteenth century, the slave trade became one of the most profitable
enterprises on the planet, and slaveholders viewed religious critics as
hostilely as oil companies now regard environmentalists. Yet when the abolition
movement finally triumphed in the 1850s, it had an invisible ally: coal and oil.
As the world's most portable and versatile workers, fossil fuels dramatically
replenished slavery's ranks with combustion engines and other labour-saving
tools. Since then, oil has transformed politics, economics, science,
agriculture, gender, and even our concept of happiness. But as Andrew Nikiforuk
argues in this provocative new book, we still behave like slaveholders in the
way we use energy, and that urgently needs to change.
Many North Americans and Europeans today enjoy lifestyles as extravagant as
those of Caribbean plantation owners. Like slaveholders, we feel entitled to
surplus energy and rationalize inequality, even barbarity, to get it. But
endless growth is an illusion, and now that half of the world's oil has been
burned, our energy slaves are becoming more expensive by the day. What we need,
Nikiforuk argues, is a radical new emancipation movement.
WE, NORTH AMERICANS, ARE TAKING THE REST OF THE PLANET AS SLAVES