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Ecosocialism is the Horizon, Degrowth is the Way

Jason Hickel interviewed by Samuel Miller-McDonald - The Trouble, February 11, 2021

“Degrowth” means many things to many people. To most, it probably doesn’t mean much beyond an antonym to “growth,” the process of getting larger or more complex. To some detractors, the term represents a scary violation of the imperative to increase GDP annually, what’s now a holy sacrament to policymakers and economic pundits (though less so to actual academic economists, who are more ambivalent). To its less pedantic and more hysterical detractors, it’s a ploy to take away everyone’s Hummers and return to a mushroom-foraging-based economy. 

At its most distilled, “degrowth” refers to a process of reducing the material impact of the economy on the world’s many imperiled ecologies, abandoning GDP as a measurement of well-being, and forging an equitable steady-state economy.

Although the concept of placing limits to economic growth is not very new, having been articulated by environmentalists several decades ago—most famously by the Club of Rome in 1972—the more recent iteration, only just over a decade old, emerges from the French décroissance. Given that the community and scholarship is so young, there’s still a lot of debate around some of the fundamentals of what the term means, and what it should mean. Some who believe in the principles recoil at the term itself: Noam Chomsky has said “when you say ‘degrowth’ it frightens people. It’s like saying you’re going to have to be poorer tomorrow than you are today, and it doesn’t mean that.” But many degrowth defenders, one of the most prominent being ecological economist Giorgos Kallis, stand by it and see value in such a unifying notion. 

Even so, there lurks some danger in all such terms and political communities, like socialism or democracy, as I have warned elsewhere of the perennial risk of being co-opted and ill-defined by bad-faith actors. If the degrowth critique goes only as far as targeting economic growth, or even general anticapitalism, there’s little intrinsic to it to stop a right-wing authoritarian program from co-opting degrowth rhetoric to justify imposing authoritarianism, or giving cover to cynical Global North states to demand degrowth of the Global South while continuing to disproportionately consume and pollute. Degrowth, if it is to get traction and if that traction is to be desirable, needs to be abundantly clear about what it stands for and what it rejects. Luckily, we have just the book to offer this much needed clarity. 

Economic anthropologist Jason Hickel is among the most eloquent advocates of degrowth, and has been intimately involved in the community’s attempt to stake out a useful, clear meaning for the term and pathway to integrating its principles into a coherent program. Hickel’s latest book, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World published in August 2020 (with a paperback edition released this month), offers an abundance of facts, concepts, and research alongside a passionate defense of ecocentric and humanistic values. Hickel has achieved something many writers of popular nonfiction seek in vain: a high density of ideas and data delivered in a light, enjoyable narrative prose. The book makes a very strong case for a topic in need of strong cases. And Less Is More arrives in good company: degrowth advocate Timothée Parrique counted 203 essays, 70 academic articles, and 11 books on degrowth published in 2020. 

Some bad-faith commentators have attempted to paint degrowth as dressed-up primitivist austerity, intrinsically harmful to the Global South, but Hickel does a persuasive job emphasizing that degrowth actually means the opposite. He musters an army of historical and contemporary data, anecdotes, and theory to argue definitively that an equitable degrowth scenario is more likely to increase material abundance and resource access. If the ideology of growthism offers an ethic of constant amoral expansion and exploitation, degrowth(ism) offers a more restrained ethic that values an abundance of time, leisure, love, and equality over concentrated wealth and distributed waste. 

While the book explores the moral imperative for controlled degrowth, Hickel is equally comfortable arguing for degrowth from a standpoint of a purely rational approach to fundamentally shifting an economy that is currently heating the world to death, guaranteeing centuries of mass death and destruction. The only way to slow the rapid race to collapse civilization and accelerate extinctions is to stop the omnicidal political economy that rules the globe. Given the natural limits that thermodynamics and terrestrial ecologies impose on human economies and non-human populations, degrowth is inevitable: it’s just a matter of deciding whether human agency will play a positive, benevolent role in the process, or continue to maximize the chaos and violence involved. I asked Dr. Hickel via email about some of the major challenges to achieving degrowth reforms and some important peripheral issues. Here is our discussion:

Moore’s Boorish "Planet of The Humans": An Annotated Collection

By admin - Get Energy Smart Now, April-June 2020

Web Editor's Commentary: We'll just cut right to the chase: Planet of the Humans is an unequivocally horrid film (the fact that it was really the brainchild of that Malthusian quack, Ozzie Zehner, whose dishonesty and bad faith arguments were the target of one of our very earliest commentaries, should be an immediate clue to anyone with any knowledge on the subject of energy transition) and an insult to green anti-capitalists worldwide.

We had originally intended to write a commentary of our own about it, however, as this very extensive bibliography demonstrates, the topic has been covered quite extensively. While this bibliography--for which we've been granted permission to copy on our own site by its author--is extensive, even exhaustive, it is unfortunately not especially well organized (we lack the time and bandwidth to engage in such an effort, and we suspect its author has better things to do as well, so we don't hold it against them).

That said, it is still extremely useful, and in it you'll find ample evidence against the arguments made in the film.

With that in mind, we offer one other addition to this extensive bibliography, and that is a podcast from The Energy Transition Show, specifically Episode 125: Beyond the Planet of the Humans, in which show host, Chris Nelder, and guest, Auke Hoekstra, deconstruct the film's producers' motivations and clearly show that they're making their arguments in bad faith out of a place of bitterness that energy transition, while quite possible, is nevertheless challenging.


For Earth Day 2020, Michael Moore announced 30 days of YouTube access of the Jeff Gibbs written/directed and Michael Moore ‘executive produced’ Planet of the Humans. This free mass release sparked viewership and a discovery that, sigh, this was mediocre propaganda. Like Robert Bryce’s work, this film has the same fundamental flaws:

  • too error-filled for non-educated/knowledgeable people to watch due to misdirection & embedded deceit that might not be evident as the viewer has to be knowledgeable to see the truthiness and deceit.
  • tedious and painful for those already knowledgeable as the core thematics/points aren’t news and it just takes so much effort to wade through the falsehoods and truthiness for having thoughts/perspective that are already out there in discussion.  

This post will provide an updated discussion of some of the better discussions of this boorishly propagandistic mocku-mentary.

Capitalism Is Killing the Earth: An Anarchist Guide to Ecology

By JohnWarwick, et. al. - Anarchist Federation, 2018

We are in a period of crisis that we in MEDCs cannot yet see. The signs are there if you look hard enough but at the moment the water is still flowing, the crops are still reliable the ski lifts are still running. The first wave of climate refugees are trying to make their way into Europe but they are being dismissed as "economic migrants" or those displaced by war. In all likelihood, MEDCs will not feel the effects of climate change for some time; our relative wealth will push the impacts onto those who haven't the means to adapt or whose local climates were less temperate to begin with. The longer we wait to act, however, the bigger the coming crunch will be.

Collectively, MEDCs are responsible for the overwhelming majority of cumulative carbon emissions and will have to radically change their energy and transport systems if an ecological disaster is to be avoided. Who will bear the brunt of the costs and who will get rich from this process is sadly predictable. The working class in MEDCs and most people in LEDCs will pay for the fossil fuel addiction and growth-at-all-costs model of the capitalist system. We have already begun to see this happen in the black, working-class communities devastated by natural disasters in the USA and flooding killing thousands in Bangladesh.

Capitalism relies on constantly increasing accumulation of profits. This has been achieved historically by appropriations (a polite term for thefts) both internal and external to the nation state. Internally, in Europe from the fifteenth century onwards, this has followed the model of stealing common land from the people to create a proletarian class dependent on wage labour to support itself. Externally, this expansion was tied to a move outside Europe's borders to exploit natural resources and labour in other locations. Thus colonialism and capitalism were, from the beginning, linked to processes of resource extraction and accumulation.

Capitalism is now in crisis; with so few areas beyond its reach, there are no easy sources of growth to appropriate, and the ability of the earth's ecosystems to accommodate further growth is being seriously questioned. How then to continue growth and profit? In MEDCs, we are seeing a fresh attack on workers? rights, with more precarious jobs, lower pay and poorer social care. In LEDCs, the neoliberal development model is pushed with privatisation and financial deregulation extracting the most profit for the capitalists.

We write this pamphlet to discuss the environmental problems that capitalism has created, with a focus on climate change and the false solutions offered up to us. There has been wider understanding of environmental issues since mainstream publications such as Silent Spring, Gaia and An Inconvenient Truth; however, an anti-capitalist critique has been lacking.

Read the report (PDF).

Ecological Marxism vs. environmental neo-Malthusianism: An old debate continues

By Brian M. Napoletano - Climate and Capitalism, April 30, 2018

Despite being consistently discredited, overpopulation ideology resurfaces with the same predictable regularity as capitalist crises. Only Marxism offers a clear alternative.

Brian Napoletano teaches environmental geography at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. He is a co-author of “Has (even Marxist) political ecology really transcended the metabolic rift?” published in the June 2018 issue of the journal Geoforum.

Despite being consistently discredited, Malthusian ideology continues to resurface — not entirely coincidentally — with the same predictable regularity as crises do in capitalism. This site already contains a number of excellent resources on the debate between Marxists and Malthusians, and many of the points reiterated and elaborated on here have already surfaced elsewhere. The general argument thrust of the argument is that, however much ecosocialism may appear to converge with the more progressive elements of environmental neo-Malthusianism, Marxists have several very good reasons to remain highly critical of this movement and its claims.

Historically, antagonisms between socialism and Malthusianism have existed since Malthus first wrote his essay on population. As he related in the preface to the first (anonymous) edition of this essay, Malthus was inspired to advance his position (which he built largely on the uncredited work of others) as a reaction to Godwin and other Utopian socialists who were gaining popularity at the time. Marx and Engels, in turn, exposed the “false and childish” nature of the arguments of “this baboon”—to use some of the colorful phrases that Marx applied to Malthus and his theories in the Grundrisse.

Understanding the antagonisms between these philosophers requires understanding clearly what exactly the Malthusian position entails. Malthus’ original argument hinged on both empirical and normative claims. The empirical claim was roughly twofold: (1) that poverty and misery is the result of over-population, which (2) itself results from the naturally dictated, exponential growth in the population of the poor. His normative claim then seemed to follow logically, i.e., that that nothing should be done to alleviate human suffering, as it would only encourage the poor to continue breeding, eventually exhausting the means of subsistence for everyone.

Marx and Engels decisively attacked this argument on all three points. On the first, they demonstrated that poverty had more to do with the expropriation of the producers from the means of production than with any nature-induced scarcity. More profoundly, they demonstrated that what constitutes over-population depends as much on the social relations and techniques of production as on natural factors, such that over-population under one mode of production cannot be equated with that of another. On the second point, they demonstrated that reproduction, like the rest of human nature, is not predetermined, and humans regulate their reproduction in accordance with social and natural conditions when other social factors (including the subjugation of women) do not prevent them from doing so (see Marx’s discussion of these points in the Grundrisse).

Finally, Marx and Engels demonstrated that a very different normative conclusion follows from Malthus’ argument than the one he made, arguing that only a communist society could establish the democratic conditions in which humanity can consciously regulate its numbers (see Engels’ 1 February 1881 letter to Karl Kautsky).

Climate Change Brings Socialism and Science Together

By Eve Ottenberg - Truthout, September 26, 2017

Thanks to climate change, science and socialism have become entwined in ways previously unimaginable. Science brings the news that, unless we act swiftly to control climate change, we will inhabit a dying planet. Socialism traces the causes of this catastrophe to the destructive and chaotic growth model of capitalism and advocates for a different system. Meanwhile, sensing the source of danger to their profits, corporate and government reactionaries fuel disinformation campaigns to discredit science and confuse the public. This has been going on for years, with disastrous results.

Ian Angus' new book, A Redder Shade of Green, (red for socialist revolution, green for ecological revolution) is about the prospect of ecosocialism in the face of capitalist ecocide. Angus has written previously about the "Anthropocene," a name for our era that emphasizes the centrality of human-influenced climate change. He does not accuse humanity as a whole of environmental destruction, but only a small sliver of humanity -- the capitalist class, which has left a gigantic, planet-sized carbon footprint. Angus repeatedly stresses that billions of people have a negligible impact on climate change and that the overpopulation argument -- which blames humanity as a whole for climate change -- has been used to distract and undermine an effective, ecosocialist movement. The US military has a hugely destructive impact on the environment. So does ExxonMobil. The many citizens of Bangladesh, reeling from climate-change-exacerbated flooding, do not.

So, what about the many environmentalists who believe a primary cause of climate change is that there are too many people on earth? Angus tries to persuade them otherwise. He observes that in the 1960s and 1970s, overpopulation was used to explain environmental degradation as well as poverty in the global south, thus providing a solution to two problems at once in a way that does not question capitalism. It took the likes of Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin and Barry Commoner to initiate an environmentalism rooted in radical social critique, he writes, adding, "Their analysis was rejected by the traditional conservationists, the wealthy organizations and individuals whose primary concern was protecting the wilderness areas for rich tourists and hunters." Indeed, it was the Sierra Club that financed Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, a book heavily promoted by "liberal Democrats who correctly saw it as an alternative to the radical views of Carson, Commoner and Bookchin." Angus adds that Ehrlich's book "became a huge best-seller, and it played a central role in derailing radical environmentalism." The population bombers faded away, but now they are back, shifting the environmental threat focus from corporations to people.

"The populationists' error," Angus writes, "is that they assume there is no alternative" to capitalism. They assume more people means more food means more modern agriculture, which is hugely ecologically destructive. But, Angus argues, there are other agricultural models; moreover, working with the food supply we already have, there are other ways to do things. "Existing food production is in fact more than enough to feed many more people." Without current waste, it could feed billions more.

Angus observes that "too many people" is in fact "code for too many poor people, too many foreigners, and too many people of color." According to Commoner: "pollution begins in corporate boardrooms, not family bedrooms."

Socialism has not always been ecologically conscious, and for much of the 20th century it wasn't, with disastrous results. "The socialism practiced by the countries of the Socialist Camp replicated the development model of capitalism," said Cuban official Oswaldo Martinez in 2009, who, Angus reports, considered this competition, a la USSR, China and East European socialist countries, a mistake. A Redder Shade of Green is a very serious attempt to bury that past once and for all, and to ground socialism in scientific environmentalism. This, fortunately, has been socialism's direction for several decades. Not so for capitalism. "Pouring crap into the environment is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and it isn't going to stop so long as capitalism survives," Angus writes.

The root of the climate crisis is capitalism, not demographics

By Michael Friedman - Monthly Review, August 15, 2017

Growing concerns about climate change and other environmental trends have set off the next round of old Malthusian diagnoses and solutions.

As a case in point, ecological economist William E. Rees recently wrote in the Canadian alternative magazine The Tyee (“Staving Off the Coming Global Collapse” July 17, 2017):

The “competitive displacement” of other species is an inevitable byproduct of continuous growth on a finite planet. The expansion of humans and their artifacts necessarily means the contraction of everything else. (Politicians’ protests notwithstanding, there is a fundamental contradiction between population/economic growth and protecting the “environment.”)

As a first sweep, one might assert that “common sense” would dictate that as a population increases, so does pressure on resources, all else being equal. This is the logic behind the ecological concept of the “carrying capacity” of an ecosystem. It is the basis for the old Club of Rome report, “Limits to Growth.” And it is also associated with some versions of the “planetary boundaries” concept.

All else is not equal.

Beyond the limits of nature: a social-ecological view of growth and degrowth

By Eleanor Finley - Entitle Blog, February 7, 2017

In this second article of the series “Ecology after capitalism“, Finley revisits the concept of growth from the libertarian socialist perspective of social ecology. She draws on Bookchin’s work to interrogate the limits of a degrowth conception of ‘growth’ and argues that we might find more opportunities for social and political transformation in social ecology’s analysis of post-scarcity and growth as ecological development. 

For more than two centuries, a critical narrative has emerged problematizing economic development, consumption, and growth. While its terms and definitions have shifted over time, the underlying logic remains the same: human society is growing too fast, faster than the limits of nature can accommodate.

In order to avoid global catastrophe by destroying the environment on which we depend, human beings must dramatically reduce the quantity of our own energetic and material consumption. Since the 2008 global financial collapse, a revised form of this analysis called degrowth has gained momentum among European environmental activists and Left academics.

In contrast to their predecessors who rejected the ‘industrial society’,  degrowth advocates blame capitalism as the engine of current ecological crisis. Joining a chorus of eco-socialists and radical ecologists, degrowth advocates argue that a planet of finite resources simply cannot sustain a social system based upon an axiom of production and consumption for its own sake.

In Can there be a socialist degrowth? ecological economist Giorgios Kallis argues that a tension is present between socialism and the apparent need for degrowth, arguing that a socialist society may not necessarily be post-growth, and thus ecologically sustainable. Such a conclusion rightly suggests that degrowth calls for the transcendence of traditional socialist concerns of labor, production, and technological advance. Yet, it does not yet account for how a socialist society may pursue growth along qualitatively different lines to produce a comfortable, materially abundant, and technologically sophisticated society.

Capital Blight: Overshooting the Message

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 21, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On or around August 13, 2015, many news sources, including especially mainstream environmental news sources announced with great foreboding that "Earth Overshoot Day" occurred at its earliest point during the calendar year in recorded history. In case one is not familiar with Earth Overshoot Day, there is a wesbite devoted to it, which explains the concept in simple, concise, and stark terms: 

"Global overshoot occurs when humanity’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption—exceeds what Earth’s ecosystems can renew in a year. Overshoot means we are drawing down the planet’s principal rather than living off its annual interest. This overshoot leads to a depletion of Earth’s life-supporting natural capital and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"The concept of Earth Overshoot Day was first conceived by Andrew Simms of the UK think tank New Economics Foundation, which partnered with Global Footprint Network in 2006 to launch the first global Earth Overshoot Day campaign. At that time, Earth Overshoot Day fell in October. WWF, the world’s largest conservation organization, has participated in Earth Overshoot Day since 2007."

This narrative sounds ominous, and indeed it is, because it's true, at least in general, and it demonstrates just how precariously close to the brink of destruction humanity (and perhaps life on Earth itself) currently stands. There are no shortage of dire reports being released daily about just how serious global warming's effects are being currently felt, how the Earth is already locked into rising sea levels, how those trends are accelerating and are going to continue to accelerate, and how the planet is perhaps on the brink of the 6th Mass Extinction in its biological history. The time in which humanity has to prevent disaster seems to have already past. At present, our choices seem limited to survival or annihilation. Earth Overshoot is yet one additional grisly reminder of our peril.

Yet, the narrative offered by the Earth Overshoot folks is nevertheless deeply flawed, because it fails to identify the cause and provide the solution to ending "overshoot", and that's capitalism.  You see, dear reader, the reason why the demands of "humanity" are exceeding what Earth’s annual "resource" output is because it is locked into an economic system that is based on the internal logic of "growth for growth's sake," an ideology that Ed Abbey once identified as the "ideology of a cancer cell".  Now at the risk of beating a dead horse, I won't repeat all of the arguments that clearly demonstrate how capitalism is inherently irreconcilable with ecological sustainability, nor am I going to rehash the rebuttals to Malthusian pseudo-scientific dogma which has been thoroughly debunked (other than to encourage you--for the sake of brevity--to follow the links to the rich corpus of work on both subjects we have preserved on ecology.iww.org).

However, I do feel compelled to point out that it does no good to constantly browbeat the 99%, like a broken record (or a skipping .mp3 file for those of you who are too young to remember what "a broken record" means), that "we need to radically change our 'overconsumptive' ways" lest the Earth rise up a smite us (granted that this will happen if we don't, of course, but that's not the point).  The problem is that under capitalism, the ability of the 99% to make any meaningful change is severely limited, if capitalism is allowed to continue.  As Ragina Johnson and Micheal Ware point out in an article written after last year's Earth Overshoot Day, Whose Consumption is Killing the Planet?, for the 99%, the vast majority of our consumption patterns are beyond our capability to alter.

Capitalism and species extinction

By Ian Rappel - International Socialism, Issue 147, June 24, 2015

Life on earth is arguably the most extraordinary phenomenon in the perceivable universe. And, among living things, 21st century humans are uniquely possessed with the means to appreciate this remarkable occurrence. Scientifically, for example, we can consider the sheer number and diversity of species in existence today. The Catalogue of Life1 project lists 1.58 million species identified to date, and the final tally looks likely to fall between 2 and 8 million.2 It is also worth considering that our geological moment holds the highest levels of species diversity in the Earth’s history, and that extant species probably represent only 1 percent of those that have ever lived on Earth—a total of between 200 and 800 million species.

This richness of life on Earth is described as biodiversity. At one level, this term applies to the number of species and genetic diversity within species. But it also includes the aggregated interactions of individual organisms and species through the multilayered food webs and trophic levels that we describe, in turn, as ecology and ecosystems. The outputs of these units and interactions of biodiversity define and reflect the world in which we live. Thus viewed, we can describe biodiversity as nothing less than living nature itself.

Beyond the numbers it is worth encountering some of the curious wonders of our planet’s biodiversity at the individual species level. Take Australia’s gastric-brooding frog Rheobatrachus silus. Discovered in the babbling brooks of south eastern Queensland in 1973, the female frog of this species has the unique ability to host its own offspring through all stages of metamorphosis—from egg spawn to tadpole to juvenile—within its own digestive system. It effectively turns its stomach into a brooding chamber and gives birth to its young through its mouth, returning the stomach to digestive duties a few days later. For another example, consider the Arctic cod Boreogadus saida. This fish lives at oceanic depths of 900 metres within 70 miles of the North Pole. The water temperatures within its habitat hover around 0°C—conditions that would ordinarily freeze the biological tissues and fluids of an organism. The Arctic cod survives these extreme temperatures by producing “antifreeze” proteins that reduce the freezing temperatures of its own body fluids. The physical, chemical and biological mechanisms necessary to undertake these functions, and the route through which these evolutionary strategies must have developed, are testimony to the creative force inherent within biological evolution.

Aside from the science, biodiversity also plays an inspirational role in our lives in other ways—through our culture, art, poetry and language, for example. Within our own individual consciousness, our fellow life forms are used as one of the tap-wells of human imagination, providing us with a rich seam of metaphors with which to explore our cognitive horizons, and sensory alternatives to contrast with our own human frailties. In our social context, connection with other living forms helps us a little to cope with alienation—whether this entails the keeping of pets and houseplants, or pausing to feed the pigeons on a lunch break.

From the perspective of human livelihoods, however, the most ­significant intersection between ourselves and wider biodiversity revolves around our dialectical interrelationship with life as the chief material means through which we feed, clothe and shelter ourselves.

The Anthropocene Myth: Blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook

By Andreas Malm - Jacobin, March 30, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Last year was the hottest year ever recorded. And yet, the latest figures show that in 2013 the source that provided the most new energy to the world economy wasn’t solar, wind power, or even natural gas or oil, but coal.

The growth in global emissions — from 1 percent a year in the 1990s to 3 percent so far this millennium — is striking. It’s an increase that’s paralleled our growing knowledge of the terrible consequences of fossil fuel usage.

Who’s driving us toward disaster? A radical answer would be the reliance of capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy. Some, however, would rather identify other culprits.

The earth has now, we are told, entered “the Anthropocene”: the epoch of humanity. Enormously popular — and accepted even by many Marxist scholars — the Anthropocene concept suggests that humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.

According to these scholars, such degradation is the result of humans acting out their innate predispositions, the inescapable fate for a planet subjected to humanity’s “business-as-usual.” Indeed, the proponents cannot argue otherwise, for if the dynamics were of a more contingent character, the narrative of an entire species ascending to biospheric supremacy would be difficult to defend.

Their story centers on a classic element: fire. The human species alone can manipulate fire, and therefore it is the one that destroys the climate; when our ancestors learned how to set things ablaze, they lit the fuse of business-as-usual. Here, write prominent climate scientists Michael Raupach and Josep Canadell, was “the essential evolutionary trigger for the Anthropocene,” taking humanity straight to “the discovery that energy could be derived not only from detrital biotic carbon but also from detrital fossil carbon, at first from coal.”

The “primary reason” for current combustion of fossil fuels is that “long before the industrial era, a particular primate species learned how to tap the energy reserves stored in detrital carbon.” My learning to walk at the age of one is the reason for me dancing salsa today; when humanity ignited its first dead tree, it could only lead, one million years later, to burning a barrel of oil.

Or, in the words of Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill: “The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.” In this narrative, the fossil economy is the creation precisely of humankind, or “the fire-ape, Homo pyrophilus,” as in Mark Lynas’s popularization of Anthropocene thinking, aptly titled The God Species.

Now, the ability to manipulate fire was surely a necessary condition for the commencement of large-scale fossil fuel combustion in Britain in the early nineteenth century. Was it also the cause of it?

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