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.

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.

Natural capital.

In 1969, [engineer, architect, and futurist Buckminster] Fuller asked J. Fran├žois 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.