Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 1

Jean-François Mouhot, Georgetown U, “Thomas Jefferson and I,” “Fossil fuels, slavery and climate change: past & present similarities and interconnections between slavery and fossil fuel use,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Kairn Klieman moderates. She’s doing excellent work on Africa. 

Slavery <> energy

The new title is “Thomas Jefferson and I.”
Purported to hate slavery. 
Tried to incriminate Britain for forcing slavery on the colonies. 
But he was one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia. 
And was obviously a racist! 
Extremely puzzling contradictions? 
Feeling that without slaves the entire world would collapse
Holding a wolf by the ears: can’t hold and can’t let it go either
[The first person mode of this speaker is rather disconcerting at this point!]
Feeling of anxiety about chores (?)
My slaves are not human beings: energy slaves! 
Ah, I see...that’s clever
Slaves and devices
Problem: fossil fuels, coal, nuclear >> energy greater and greater moral and economic cost
procurement of oil or gas, messy environmentally and politically
Expose environment to dangers of large scale pollution
Fracking. Not well understood. 
lives claimed by atmospheric pollution this century far > WW1 and WW2
advantages vs disadvantages; the former outweighed the latter until recently
without taking death << climate change: deaths far exceed nuclear energy mishaps
renewables: not perfect either. turbines difficult to scale up quickly; occasionally hurt birds etc and “aesthetic pollution”--have to be supplemented with gas and coal stations
Germany has begun to phase out nuclear and there is evidence here of the problems
modern real slavery << cheap fuel demand
China, India, Africa: harvesting
appalling conditions for not much
State Dept website: estimate the number of slave like conditions of women and children << footprint
The speaker calculated his quota as 44! 
Many people doubt climate change or human responsibility
I have to choose in whom to place my faith: I trust the scientists rather than a minority of dissenting voices
I can trust things I don’t understand
Confusion: we have a strong vested interest in ignoring climate science. Not dissimilar to slaveowning ignorance in the past...
Future generations. Victims of slavery as distant unknowns <> victims of climate change. They have no vote. 
Historians; we should only judge people in the past according to their own moral standards
Zimmerman: evil is socially situational
when we consider the present it’s quite similar. We have recreated slavery in this sense. 
[This is an incredible piece, by the way, for me thinking about Dark Ecology.]
So does that mean we must excuse Jefferson?! (rhetorical question)
Something New Under the Sun: new powers << machines banished some historical constraints on health, population, food, energy use and so on. Few who knew of these constraints would mourn their passing. 
Haiti: countries without fossil fuels can >> deserts when populations increase
Wilde, 1891: all unintellectual labor...must be done by machinery
unless there are slaves to do the ugly horrible uninteresting work
human slavery wrong; slavery of machine >> future of world depends (still Wilde)
but we now know the consequences of burning fossil fuels
Life and Death of Doctor Faustus: bargain with the devil. Unlimited power for limited time. Performs wonders. Flying chariot. Worldly pleasures, eating grapes in middle of winter. 24 years, Faust dragged to hell. 
George Monbiot: You could mistake the story as a metaphor for climate change. 
Mephistopheles as fossil fuel
24 years is the period in which they have enabled us to live in voluptuousness
A Faustian pact
we live a contradiction; I enjoy weekend excursions, but I want to lower my carbon footprint
Jefferson: same conundrums. Spent most of his life on credit, slaves mortgaged for large debts. Knew that if he himself released his slaves it would only be symbolic. Virtuous but no effect on larger picture. 
One person’s affect on atmosphere is negligible. Public goods problem. I am entangled in my contradictions. 

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