Energy of Slaves

Energy of Slaves

Oil and the New Servitude

Book - 2012
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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.
Publisher: Vancouver : Greystone Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9781553659785
Characteristics: xii, 282 p. ;,23 cm.


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May 25, 2020

Tedious and unconvincing.

Mar 19, 2015

While it doesn't really offer a lot of new information it is an effective visualization of a different perspective on our oil use. Most compelling was the presentation of how U.S. unwillingness to give up oil parallels the south's unwillingness to give up slaves. Also the question of if we are slaves to our machines or not was quite pertinent as well.

Feb 10, 2014

This book is fairly well written and is a quick read. This book is close to a polemic as the author chooses his quotations and evidence from biased sources to fit his thesis. There are some flaws in the purported facts, analogies and conclusions. The author is aware of the limitations of the energy density of wind, solar and other energy technologies. The author is probably right in some conclusions with respect to what could happen in a short period of time if energy prices climb over a short period of time. The connection to oil versus progress is not as linear as the author portrays. The decay in Japan is not as he has portrayed, with all the blame on importing oil. This book is too simplistic a thesis to describe the situation in the world today. The conclusion of improving the situation by adapting our lifestyle as that of medieval Benedictine monks only reiterated the Christian theme of humanity that ran through the book. This viewpoint assumes a moral position which isn't necessarily shared by all people nor a true reflection of human nature. This book is worth reading but does not offer any real solution other then that which will prevail, end of the world as we know it with a vastly reduced quality of life and leisure for the developed and developing nations whether by choice or by force.

Apr 07, 2013

I met Andrew @ a writing workshop he gave a few years ago. It is always neat to read work prepared by an author you have met previously. I really enjoyed reading this book although his perspective of reality is certainly NOT something I wish was happening. I personally, also like to be reminded (as I was by this book) that I am part of the problem and thereby need to be part of the solutions. It is sobering to realize how many 'slaves' each of us has toiling away to support our North American lifestyles.......

Feb 20, 2013

The comparison with ancient Rome and its habit of using Slaves is compared to our use of petroleum in (so far as I have gotton), creating food,
Food demands on energy amounts to 16% is the US, and 20% in France. Interestingly, Jancovic uses the slave model to determine that it would take 100 slaves toiling for each and every citizen of France to make enough food. Or, in order to make 3,300 kilocalories of food, it takes about 25,745 calories of energy. Many exampels in this book about these descrepancies as compared to ancient times. Above web site refers to fracking promoters too rosey picture of such production.

Nov 15, 2012

The Energy of Slaves - Oil and the New Servitude © 2012
By Andrew Nikiforuk (Canadian) – Non-Fiction

‘Earth’s new Master is an urban beast and its slaves are the world’s resources.’ Andrew Nikiforuk
We are brought along into facts, figures & unconventional ways of looking at how the egress of oil has forever altered humanity’s path.
For example; how could we maintain today’s standard of living without use of our precious utility of oil and its easily harnessed horsepower?
Up until a few centuries ago, brute manpower was basically the engine powering up civilization. This energy was essentially the driving as well as limiting factor determining the pace of progress. Great ideas like the wheel or the horse & plow were really very few and far between. In answer to the former question, one would need over 700 human slaves each to maintain our current typical lifestyle.
As Andrew points out, ‘Ancient civilizations routinely relied on shackled human muscle. Slaveholders viewed critics as hostilely as oil companies now regard environmentalists. Yet when the abolitionist movement finally triumphed in the 1850’s, it had two invisible allies: coal & oil.’
Unfortunately about 2/3rds of the way through, this book begins to veer a hard left from the interesting tidbits on oil muscle, ancient equivalents and other interesting associated topics. The author gently morphs his focus into the single exhausted argument of the ‘little guy against big oil’ themes.
As controversial and worthy of note that topic may well be, we have a myriad of books on that subject already. I was thoroughly enjoying my history lesson up until then. It cost him a star on the rating chart…sorry pal.
By John Archibald, November 2012


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Mar 19, 2015

Earl Cook "Affluence, freedom and waste are the 3 musketeers of the growth society" pg. 232

Mar 19, 2015

David Graeber "We've managed to take a situation which most people in the ancient world would have recognized as a form of slavery and turned it into the definition of freedom". pg. 72

Mar 19, 2015

actually a quote of C.S. Lewis, "We shall in fact be slaves and puppets of that to that which we have given our souls" pg. 233

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