Village Books Literature Live - Co-sponsored by Transition Whatcom
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.
Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has written about education, economics, and the environment for the past two decades. His work has appeared in a variety of Canadian publications including The Walrus, Maclean's, Canadian Business, Report on Business, Chatelaine, Georgia Straight and Harrowsmith.
Nikiforuk's books include Pandemonium, Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig's War against Oil, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction, The Fourth Horseman: A Short History of Plagues, Scourges and Emerging Viruses and Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug are Killing North America's Great Forests. His book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent won several awards, including the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award, and became a national bestseller. His journalism has won seven National Magazine Awards and top honours for investigative writing from the Association of Canadian Journalists. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.