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Andreas Malm

Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire

By Cara Daggett - SagePub, June 20, 2018

Global warming poses a problem for fossil fuel systems and those who profit from them; leaving fossil fuels in the ground likely means leaving trillions of dollars of profit in the ground. Vast networks of privilege that are sustained by fossil economies are likewise threatened. As Jairus Grove reflects, ‘environmental justice will require unequal roles: significantly constraining, even repressing, the powers of the Eurocene’. Similarly, the ‘Planet Politics Manifesto’ reminds us that ‘the planet is telling us that there are limits to human freedom; there are freedoms and political choices we can no longer have’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the amount of money and privilege at stake, the tragic ethos demanded by global environmental justice is being resisted. Those regions that have emitted the most carbon dioxide are positioning themselves to profit from a warming earth by advancing a militarised and corporatised version of climate security. The result, as Christian Parenti foresees it, is the likelihood of a ‘politics of the armed lifeboat’, given that, already,

the North is responding with a new authoritarianism. The Pentagon and its European allies are actively planning a militarized adaptation, which emphasizes the long-term, open-ended containment of failed or failing states – counter-insurgency forever. This sort of ‘climate fascism’ – a politics based on exclusion, segregation and repression – is horrific and bound to fail.

‘Climate fascism’, with its camps, barbed wire and police omnipresence, is a likely outcome of climate (in)security.

A nascent fossil fascism is already evident in the wake of the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and the conservative capture of the US Congress. In a short time, the Trump Administration and the Republican Party have shored up fossil
fuel systems by denying climate change and dismantling a host of environmental policies including: withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, installing a climate denier (Scott Pruitt) to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, taking steps to kill the Clean
Power Plan, weakening the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, lifting a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land, ending a study on the health effects of mountaintop coal removal, and moving to open nearly all US coastal waters to offshore drilling for oil.

Climate denial obviously serves fossil-fuelled capitalist interests. However, coal and oil do more than ensure profit and fuel consumption-heavy lifestyles. If people cling so tenaciously to fossil fuels, even to the point of embarking upon authoritarianism, it is
because fossil fuels also secure cultural meaning and political subjectivities. Since the new imperialism of the 19th century, fossil fuels have become the metaphorical, material, and sociotechnical basis of Western petrocultures that extend across the planet.

In other words, fossil fuels matter to new authoritarian movements in the West because of profits and consumer lifestyles, but also because privileged subjectivities are oil-soaked and coal-dusted. It is no coincidence that white, conservative American men – regardless of class – appear to be among the most vociferous climate deniers, as well as leading fossil fuel proponents in the West.

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"Without a Popular Movement We Don’t Stand a Chance”: Andreas Malm on Climate Change

By Rasmus Landström - Verso Books, February 5, 2018

First published at ETC. Translated by Sam Carlshamre.

Andreas Malm sits in his office in his apartment in Malmö. He is looking uncomfortable. The question I asked — if he is active in any political organisation — seems to have opened the floodgates of his bad conscience. Well, of course, he is a member of Socialistiska Partiet (“The Socialist Party” — a Swedish left-wing organisation with its roots in the Trotskyist tradition) and Klimataktion (“Climate Action”), but the days when he went blocking airport runways seems to be over. Last year he missed the major actions against the coal plants in Germany due to a foot injury.

"Since I became a researcher I have turned into a kind of 'Armchair Activist,' and it’s something that I makes me feel incredibly embarrassed."

He scratches his head.

"But I do try to participate in as many demonstrations and manifestations as I can; and why not a riot every now and then? I guess you shouldn’t write that last bit though."

An internationally renowned researcher and authority in the field of Human ecology who participates in riots? For those of us who have followed Andreas Malm’s trajectory over the last decades that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. For many years he was a well-known character of the non-parliamentarian, far-left Sweden. He started out with Palestine activism in the 1990s, which led to the book Bulldozers Against a People — in which he chronicled his own work with activists in some of the most dangerous parts of Palestine’s. Later he wrote two books on the workers’ struggle in Iran together with his partner Shora Esmailian — which led to them both being banned from returning to the country. He has also been an activist in the struggle against Islamophobia and American imperialism, and has written books on these topics as well.

"Since I became a researcher I’ve been drawn into this academic bubble. I could say that that’s because I have a small child to take care of, but it still gives me a very bad conscience."

Malm sighs and looks quite unhappy. I figure its time to change the subject. After all, the reason I’m doing this interview isn’t his personal track record as an activist, but his contributions as a researcher and political commentator. I start by asking how he got engaged in the struggle against climate change.

"In the early 2000s I considered the whole issue of climate change a bit "petty bourgeois," as did most of us on the radical, non-parliamentarian left. Why should we care about polar bears or melting ice caps when there were more important issues, such as the workers’ struggle, right here? But then I came across Mark Lynas’ book High Tide; I read it and it got me thinking. At that time, I was active in issues concerning the Middle East, and suddenly it struck me that a democratic Iran would never come about if there was no potable water around. That made me write the book Det är vår bestämda uppfattning att om ingenting görs nu kommer det att vara för sent (“It is our Firm View that if Nothing is Done Now it will be too Late”). Since then I have kept working on these issues within the academy."

Time to Pull the Plugs

By Andreas Malm - ROARMag, December 2017

Our best hope now is an immediate return to the flow. CO2 emissions have to be brought close to zero: some sources of energy that do not produce any emissions bathe the Earth in an untapped glow. The sun strikes the planet with more energy in a single hour than humans consume in a year. Put differently, the rate at which the Earth intercepts sunlight is nearly 10,000 times greater than the entire energy flux humans currently muster — a purely theoretical potential, of course, but even if unsuitable locations are excluded, there remains a flow of solar energy a thousand times larger than the annual consumption of the stock of fossil fuels.

The flow of wind alone can also power the world. It has nothing like the overwhelming capacity of direct solar radiation, but estimates of the technically available supply range from one to twenty-four times total current energy demand. Other renewable sources — geothermal, tidal, wave, water — can make significant contributions, but fall short of the promises of solar and wind. If running water constituted the main stream of the flow before the fossil economy, light and air may do so after it.

Hopelessly devoted to fossil fuels

By Amy Leather - Socialist Review, January 2017

World leaders are failing on climate change. Theresa May’s Tory government has given the go ahead to a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, backed the expansion of Heathrow airport and overturned the local decision in Lancashire to stop fracking. Meanwhile climate change denier Donald Trump is heading to the White House.

The last decade has seen a massive expansion of so-called “dirty energies” such as fracking, deep water drilling, and tar sand extraction. The pledges to reduce carbon emissions in the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries in December 2015, are only voluntary. Even if signatories kept to them we would still be on track for global warming far higher than is sustainable.

The scale of the crisis is widely recognized. Climate scientists and environmentalists such as Ian Angus have shown that we have entered a new geological era — the Anthropocene — in which the dominant influence on the environment is human activity. Unless urgent action is taken we face catastrophic climate change. The solution to global warming is quite simple — we need to stop burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and instead make a rapid switch to renewables.

So why won’t our rulers act? We need to look beyond the individual politicians. There are, of course, the climate change deniers, who must be challenged and stopped, but much of the ruling class does accept that climate change is a reality. The problem is they are guardians of a system with fossil fuels at its heart. Tackling the climate crisis would mean tackling the vested interests of the fossil fuel corporations — some of the most profitable companies in the world. To understand why capitalism and fossil fuels are so intertwined we need to go back to the time of the industrial revolution in Britain.

Andreas Malm, in his book Fossil Capital, outlines how in the early 1800s an energy transition took place in Britain. The first machines of the industrial revolution, the spinning and weaving machines of the cotton industry, were driven by water. In 1800 there were at least 1,000 water mills concentrated in Lancashire and Scotland. Even as late as the 1820s most mills in Manchester were still water-powered. Just ten years later steam generated by burning coal had overtaken water.

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