9781844677450-carbon-democracy-max_221

Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil

How oil undermines democracy, and our ability to address the environmental crisis.

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.

Reviews

  • “This study of the basis of modern democracy over the past century connects oil-producing states of the Middle East with industrial democracies of the West. Mitchell argues that carbon democracy in the West has been based on the assumption that unlimited oil will produce endless economic growth, and he concludes that this model cannot survive the exhaustion of these fuels and associated climate change. Tim Mitchell has written a remarkable book that deserves a wide audience.”
  • “A challenging, sophisticated, and important book.”
  • “It’s a book that tackles a really big subject, in a sweeping but readable fashion, and after reading it, it’s hard to imagine thinking about political power the same way again ... This book utterly blew me away.”
  • “A remarkable account of the politics of oil and nation building in the Middle East.”

Blog

  • 21st September: Climate action in New York and across the globe – free Verso ebook

    Summer was mellow in Gotham, and now the New York fall is fit to melt a poet’s heart. It’s all mists and mellow fruitfulness. The clement weather could almost make city dwellers forget the dire state of our global environment. But, as we know, weather and climate are very different matters. Since the days when sonnets did the work Tinder does now, it’s been true that sometimes too bright the eye of heaven shines; just as often is his gold complexion dimmed. The weather’s like that. It goes up and down. But the changing climate is a matter of steady deterioration, and the eye of heaven is going to burn your backside to the bone if you don’t get up off your fat one and make a difference.

    September 21, 2014, is a GLOBAL DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION, and the epicenter is NEW YORK.

    Tell your friends; tell your enemies; tell your enemy’s enemy, regardless of his questionable status as your friend; tell your family; tell the Adam’s family; don’t tell your partner – pretend your partner told you, and then feign reluctance because you know how determined that will make him/her that you both attend and get there when the clubs are emptying and the lark’s still making coffee; don’t go tell it on the mountain—try the city:

    On Saturday, September 21, United Nations delegates will converge on Manhattan to prepare for next year’s climate conference in Paris. We need to make them understand that the world is watching and will not stand for inaction.

    To keep you all focused on the march and what it means, Verso is giving away free ebooks of I’m With the Bears: Stories from a Damaged Planet, featuring fiction by David Mitchell and T. C. Boyle, among others, and an introduction by Bill McKibben.

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  • Writing on Iraq in the Aftermath of War: A Reading List on the "War on Terror"

    What can be learned from Iraq's recent past — a past haunted by imperial power — to help us critically engage with the present cycle of violence in Iraq?

    Verso has been actively publishing books over the last decade that addresses the conflict in Iraq. Below is a list of critical texts that seeks to contextualize the disaster which has resulted from the US and UK "War on Terror".


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  • Privatised catastrophe: Bets on the weather and natural disasters

    Governments can no longer afford to compensate the victims of earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, or rebuild infrastructure. The tax revenues just aren’t there. So they’re selling insurance bonds to private investors. In an article recently published by Le Monde Diplomatique, the opening paragraphs of which we publish here, Razmig Keucheyan charts the horrendous new developments of finance capitalism.

    Last November, super-typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people, damaging or destroying 1.5m homes and causing $13bn damage. Three months later, insurance brokers Munich Re and Willis Re, accompanied by representatives of the UN international strategy for disaster reduction (UNISDR), presented a new financial product to members of the Philippine senate: it was intended to make up for the supposed deficiencies of state provision against major climate-related disasters. The Philippines risk and insurance scheme for municipalities (PRISM) is a high-yield security that municipalities would offer to private investors (1), who would receive an attractive rate of interest, subsidised by the state, but would lose their investment in the event of a disaster of a given scale and severity.

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