Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming

Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming

by Andreas Malm


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How capitalism first promoted fossil fuels with the rise of steam power

The more we know about the catastrophic implications of climate change, the more fossil fuels we burn. How did we end up in this mess? In this masterful new history, Andreas Malm claims it all began in Britain with the rise of steam power. But why did manufacturers turn from traditional sources of power, notably water mills, to an engine fired by coal? Contrary to established views, steam offered neither cheaper nor more abundant energy—but rather superior control of subordinate labour. Animated by fossil fuels, capital could concentrate production at the most profitable sites and during the most convenient hours, as it continues to do today. Sweeping from nineteenth-century Manchester to the emissions explosion in China, from the original triumph of coal to the stalled shift to renewables, this study hones in on the burning heart of capital and demonstrates, in unprecedented depth, that turning down the heat will mean a radical overthrow of the current economic order.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784781293
Publisher: Verso Books
Publication date: 01/12/2016
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 364,747
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

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, 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.

Table of Contents

1 In the Heat of the Past: Towards a History of the Fossil Economy 1

2 Scarcity, Progress, the Nature of the Human Species? Theories of the Rise of Steam 20

3 The Long Life of the Flow: Industrial Energy Before Coal 37

4 "There Are Mighty Energies in those Masses': Mobilising Power in a Time of Crisis 58

5 Puzzles of the Transition: The Lasting Advantages of Water 77

6 Fleeing the Flowing Commons: The Expansion of Waterpower That Never Happened 96

7 A Ticket to the Town: Advantages of Steam in Space 121

8 A Force to Count On: Advantages of Steam in Time 165

9 'No Government but Fuel': The Derivation of Power from Coal in Bourgeois Ideology 194

10 'Go and Stop the Smoke!': The Moment of Resistance against Steam 223

11 A Long Trail of Smoke: The Fossil Economy Consummated 249

12 The Myth of the Human Enterprise: Towards a Different Theory 255

13 Fossil Capital: The Energy Basis of Bourgeois Property Relations 279

14 China as Chimney of the World: Fossil Capital Today 327

15 A Return to the Flow? Obstacles to the Transition 367

16 Time to Pull the Plugs: On CO2 as an Effluent of Power 389

Acknowledgements 395

List of Abbreviations 397

Notes 399

Index 469

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