Oil is a curse, it is often said, that condemns the countries producing it to an existence defined by war, corruption and enormous inequality. Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story, arguing that no nation escapes the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil. It shapes the body politic both in regions such as the Middle East, which rely upon revenues from oil production, and in the places that have the greatest demand for energy.
Timothy Mitchell begins with the history of coal power to tell a radical new story about the rise of democracy. Coal was a source of energy so open to disruption that oligarchies in the West became vulnerable for the first time to mass demands for democracy. In the mid-twentieth century, however, the development of cheap and abundant energy from oil, most notably from the Middle East, offered a means to reduce this vulnerability to democratic pressures. The abundance of oil made it possible for the first time in history to reorganize political life around the management of something now called "the economy" and the promise of its infinite growth. The politics of the West became dependent on an undemocratic Middle East.
In the twenty-first century, the oil-based forms of modern democratic politics have become unsustainable. Foreign intervention and military rule are faltering in the Middle East, while governments everywhere appear incapable of addressing the crises that threaten to end the age of carbon democracy—the disappearance of cheap energy and the carbon-fuelled collapse of the ecological order.
In making the production of energy the central force shaping the democratic age, Carbon Democracy rethinks the history of energy, the politics of nature, the theory of democracy, and the place of the Middle East in our common world.
Syrian revolutionaries, in the wake of Geneva’s partial “cessation of hostilities", have begun to peacefully protest in the streets of Aleppo, Damascus, Dera'a, and Homs. Chanting “the Syrian people are one!,” they rally to demand freedom, democracy, and an end to the deadly civil war. Despite the death toll reaching nearly half a million, the Syrian population has shown that it will not defer to the murderous campaigns of Bashar Al-Assad, the terrorism of jihadist groups such as Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIL, nor the imperial strategies of divide-and-rule by foreign superpowers such as the US and Russia. This sudden wave of people power harks back to the broad regime-defying spirit that animated the Arab Uprisings in 2011. Tragically, autocratic forces continue to hold political and economic power, not only in Syria but also in Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and the monarchy of Saudi Arabia (which, with US support, has spearheaded a deadly assault on the population Yemen). As events unfold, we present a reading list of key titles that – through investigative journalism, graphic storytelling, and critical analysis – shed light on what’s at stake for in the conflicts that plague the Middle East.
(A Syrian Kurdish boy sits atop a destroyed tank in Kobane three months after ISIS fighters were driven out by Kurdish forces. Photo: Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images)
"We already live in the Anthropocene, so let us get used to this ugly word and the reality that it names. It is our epoch and our condition. This geological epoch is the product of the last few hundred years of our history. The Anthropocene is the sign of our power, but also of our impotence. It is an Earth whose atmosphere has been damaged by the 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide we have spilled by burning coal and other fossil fuels. It is the impoverishment and artificializing of Earth’s living tissue, permeated by a host of new synthetic chemical molecules that will even affect our descendants. It is a warmer world with a higher risk of catastrophes, a reduced ice cover, higher sea-levels and a climate out of control." - Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene
2015 was the hottest year in recorded history. Scientists have confirmed that the staggering growth of global emissions this past century has caused a definitive turning point in global climate history.
Some put forth that this climate predicament represents a new geological epoch of human origin, thus dubbing it as the “Anthropocene”. There is no doubt as to whether climate change is occurring. However, identifying the origins of this crisis presents great implications on deciding what to do next.
Take back the planet and understand what's really going on in these new and recently published (plus soon to come) books on the history and politics of the global climate crisis.
All of the books on our Anthropocene Reading List are 20% to 30% off (plus free shipping and bundled ebooks where available!)
Five years ago the Middle East and North Africa was electrified by unprecedented popular protests that heralded the start of the Arab Spring. Beginning in Tunisia popular movements swept regimes from power in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and threatened to overthrow ruling elites across the region. Tragically, the Arab Spring has since become mired in counterrevolution and civil war with the extraordinary violence of the war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, the escalating refugee crisis, and the establishment of a new dictatorship in Egypt emblematic of the profound challenges facing the people of the region. As tumultuous events continue to unfold we present Verso's reading list of key titles addressing the developing situation in the Middle East.