Fossil Capital

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

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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.

Reviews

  • Malm forcefully unmasks the assumption that economic growth has inevitably brought us to the brink of a hothouse Earth. Rather, as he shows in a subtle and surprising reinterpretation of the Industrial Revolution, it has been the logic of capital (especially the need to valorize immense sunk investments in fossil fuels), not technology or even industrialism per se, that has driven global warming.

    Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and Ecology of Fear
  • Fossil Capital is a theoretical masterpiece and a political-economic-ecological manifesto. It looks unblinkingly at the catastrophe that could await human society if we fail to act on the words System Change or Climate Change. It is a book that I will return to again and again—and take notes.

    John Bellamy Foster, University of Oregon, author of Marx’s Ecology
  • The definitive deep history on how our economic system created the climate crisis. Superb, essential reading from one of the most original thinkers on the subject.

    Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine