Moving on.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have compulsively (and relentlessly) shared bits of Andrew Nikiforuk’s The Energy of Slaves on this site, as well as on Twitter.

Nikiforuk’s thesis – that the deadly indignity of human slavery exists along the same capital-accumilation-excuses-everything trajectory as the egregious exploitation of natural resources – is hugely, hugely problematic in terms of humanism and racism. But it is also a weighty damnation of neoliberalism and consumer culture.

Thanks to Nikiforuk’s research, my future reading plans include: Terry Lynn Karl, Vaclav Smil, Charles Hall, Nicolas Georgescu-Roegen, Jacques Ellul, Frederick Soddy, John Ruskin, Fred Cottrell, Jonathan Watts, and – years overdue – Vandana Shiva.

One last startling quotation before I move on:

I summon my blue-eyed slaves anytime it pleases me. I command the Americans to send me their bravest soldiers to die for me. Anytime I clap my hands a stupid genie called the American ambassador appears to do my bidding. When the Americans die in my service their bodies are frozen in metal boxes by the U.S. Embassy and American airplanes carry them away, as if they never existed. Truly, America is my favourite slave. (168)

King Fahid bin Abdul Aziz, describing Saudi-American relations in 1993, qtd. in Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.

A few oily scientists.

The number of retractions for fraud, mistakes, or plagiarism in scientific journals increased fifteenfold between 2001 and 2010. […] Most of the papers in [China’s] five thousand science journals are largely published for show and go unread. Over two years beginning in 2008, 30 percent of the submissions to the Journal of Zhejiang University – Science were copied.

From: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.

Oil and obsolescence.

For nearly one hundred years, industry had manufactured general goods by burning one pound of fossil fuel for every pound of plastic or metal product. A typical car, for example, required less fuel to build than it consumed during its lifetime on the road. The digital revolution has turned this equation upside down. A laptop requires 26.5 pounds of oil for every pound of computer. Given that most laptops don’t last more than three years, the majority of energy consumed in a computer takes place during its construction in Asian factories operating under slave-like conditions. Technological obsolescence may represent the greatest oil spill the world has ever seen.

From: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.

Organ economics.

[An orthodox economist] would find it inefficient to carry two lungs and two kidneys[…]. [Nature] would dispense with individual kidneys – since we do not need them all the time, it would be more ‘efficient’ if we sold ours and used a central kidney on a time-share basis. You could also lend your eyes at night, since you do not need them to dream. (128)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, qtd. in Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.

The nitrogen fix.

This excerpt from The Energy of Slaves presents a novel and compelling case for organic or quasi-organic/low-pesticide farming. Quite salient, too, in light of the recent tragedy in West, Texas:

The liberal application of artificial fertilizers made from natural gas (it takes 33,500 cubic feet of methane to make one ton of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer) detonated human population numbers through higher crop yields. […] Today, the Haber-Bosch [nitrogen conversion] process feeds more than one-third of the world’s population and accounts for half the nitrogen in every human body. […] Most vegetables and cereals now contain fewer proteins, minerals, and vitamins than they did one hundred years ago. Researchers suspect that the speed of plants’ growth has diluted their uptake of good nutrients. Highly fertilized crops have also compromised the world’s nitrogen cycle. Every year the planting of legumes, the spraying of fertilizers, and the release of nitrogen oxides from tractors and other combustion engines converts more nitrogen into reactive forms than is created by Mother Nature. Crops take up only 30 percent of the applied fertilizer, and the rest washes away. Scientists estimate that modern farming is leaking three times more nitrogen into the oceans, waterways, and atmosphere than they can absorb. This toxic leakage contaminates groundwater with nitrates and creates dead zones in oceans, lakes, and rivers. The doubling of fixed nitrogen has worsened the greenhouse effect, weakened the ozone layer, thickened smog layers, intensified acid rain, and poisoned vast expanses of water […] with blooms of nitrogen-loving creatures that gobble up oxygen supplies. Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas, the authors of Empires of Food, note that the Haber-Bosch process “swapped out dependence on nitrogen for a dependency on the process to make nitrogen, which like so many elements of the modern world, is entirely reliant on fossil fuels.” (70-71)

From: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.

Natural capital.

In 1969, [engineer, architect, and futurist Buckminster] Fuller asked J. François de Chadenedes, a petroleum geologist, to figure out what it cost Mother Nature to make one gallon of petroleum. The innovator instructed the geologist to include the cost of photosynthesis as well as the slow cooking by heat and pressure into crude over millions of years. De Chadenedes obliged, estimating the price at more than $1 million per gallon. (62)

From: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.

Joyriding.

We probably have a right to prefer our thousandth joy ride to the thousandth joy ride of our grandchildren, but whether we have the right to deprive them of their only ride in order that we may indulge ourselves with two thousand such rides is another question. (45)

Economist John Ise, qtd. in: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.