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Publisher Description

By the winner of the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

Ancient civilizations relied on shackled human muscle. It took the energy of slaves to plant crops, clothe emperors, and build cities. Nineteenth-century slaveholders viewed critics as hostilely as oil companies and governments now regard environmentalists. Yet the abolition movement had an invisible ally: coal and oil. As the world's most versatile workers, fossil fuels replenished slavery's ranks with combustion engines and other labor-saving tools. Since then, cheap oil has transformed politics, economics, science, agriculture, and even our concept of happiness. Many North Americans today live as extravagantly as Caribbean plantation owners. We feel entitled to surplus energy and rationalize inequality, even barbarity, to get it. But endless growth is an illusion.

What we need, Andrew Nikiforuk argues in this provocative new book, is a radical emancipation movement that ends our master-and-slave approach to energy. We must learn to use energy on a moral, just, and truly human scale.

Published in Partnership with the David Suzuki Institute.

Politics & Current Events
August 17
Greystone Books
Perseus Books, LLC

Customer Reviews

WBrooke ,

Really thought provoking

I am an engineer in sustainable energy systems. I thought I knew a lot about energy and the politics associated with energy, but this is the first time I have ever been presented with the idea of slaves being the first energy resource that was used to build up "civilized" society. Nikiforuk makes a convincing argument that slavery was common practice for every advanced society, from the ancient Greeks, to the Egyptians, the Romans, the British, Spanish, Americans, etc, etc, and even with abolitionists and movements to free humans from bondage, the practice went on for thousands of years until the steam engine was developed allowing coal to take the place of muscle. Really fascinating stuff. External combustion and coal was supplanted by internal combustion and oil. Now we have the energy equivalent of thousands of human slaves working non-stop for each person. Nikiforuk does a masterful job of navigating the turbulent waters of energy policy.

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