University of Cambridge > > Critical Theory and Practice Seminar > On the birth – and possible death of – fossil capital.

On the birth – and possible death of – fossil capital.

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Pierre Bocquillon.

Fossil capital is the creation of profit by means of fossil energy. Or, as the CEO of ExxonMobil recently put it: “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” For two centuries, this credo has informed the actions of capitalists of all hues: if I can dig up fossil fuels or burn them and make money, than that’s what I want to do – and après moi, le deluge. As we are now experiencing the early phases of that deluge, we have reason to look back and ask: how did fossil capital seize hold of this planet? This talk will focus on the birth of the phenomenon in the country of Britain in the early nineteenth century. It will deal, more precisely, with the transition from water to steam in British industry: the key moment when a fossil fuel was first connected, via a prime mover for impelling machines, to the production of commodities. Why did manufacturers abandon water and pick up steam? While offering some answers to that question, this talk will pose some new questions on what could possibly be done today to achieve a complete shift to renewable energy and rid the earth of fossil capital.

Andreas Malm teaches human ecology at Lund University, Sweden. His work has appeared in journals such as Environmental History, Historical Materialism, Antipode and Organization & Environment. He is the author, of Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, and with Shora Esmailian, of Iran on the Brink: Rising Workers and Threats of War, and of half a dozen books in Swedish on political economy, the Middle East and climate change.

This talk is part of the Critical Theory and Practice Seminar series.

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