Does oil wealth lead to political poverty? It often looks that way, but Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story. In this magisterial study, Timothy Mitchell rethinks the history of energy, bringing into his grasp as he does so environmental politics, the struggle for democracy, and the place of the Middle East in the modern world.
With the rise of coal power, the producers who oversaw its production acquired the ability to shut down energy systems, a threat they used to build the first mass democracies. Oil offered the West an alternative, and with it came a new form of politics. Oil created a denatured political life whose central object—the economy—appeared capable of infinite growth. What followed was a Western democracy dependent on an undemocratic Middle East. We now live with the consequences: an impoverished political practice, incapable of addressing the crises that threaten to end the age of carbon democracy—namely, the disappearance of cheap energy and the carbon-fueled collapse of the ecological order.
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.
Today on Democracy Now! James Marriott, co-author of The Oil Road: Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London, Timothy Mitchell, author of Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil, and Anna Galkina, campaigner with London-based arts, human rights, and environmental justice organization Platform London, discussed the Azerbaijan elections, political unrest in Egypt, oil pipelines and their impact on political systems and populations at home and abroad.
As tumultuous events in Egypt unfold at speed, with former President Morsi currently in custody, we present Verso's updated reading list of key titles and articles addressing the challenges facing Egypt and the Middle East.
Seamus Milne considers the current situation in Egypt in the context of the Arab Spring and its historical precedents in the "Spring of Nations" of 1848 in his latest article for the Guardian. His latest book, The Revenge of History, follows the events of the Arab Spring as they unfold, as well as providing a rich geopolitical context for the uprisings.
The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt
Edited by Jeannie Sowers and Chris Toensing
The account of how it all began, this collection of reports from the region details the causes that underpinned the revolution before it amassed in scale. Starting with the eighteen days of protest in the lead up to Mubarak’s resignation, it is a first hand account of the collective dissent of workers, anti-war activists and campaigners for social change.
Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt's Road to Revolt
by Hazem Kandil
When the military turned against Mubarak, so too did the revolt, from outbursts of protest to full on revolution. Hazem Kandil challenges the siding of the military with the people, instead documenting the power struggle between the three components of Egypt’s authoritarian regime: the military, the security services, and the political apparatus. Analysing what it means for Egypt to transition from military to police state, Kandil looks toward future revolution.
In an article in the Guardian on the recent events in Egypt, Kandil explains why liberal western critics can't simply say: "I told you so."
You can also read an interview with Kandil in New Left Review on the Egyptian revoution.