In Energy without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity (Duke University Press, 2017), David McDermott Hughes investigates why climate change has yet to be seen as a moral issue. He examines the forces that render the use of fossil fuels ordinary and therefore exempt from ethical evaluation. Hughes centers his analysis on Trinidad and Tobago, which is the world’s oldest petro-state, having drilled the first continuously producing oil well in 1866. Marrying historical research with interviews with Trinidadian petroleum scientists, policymakers, technicians, and managers, he draws parallels between Trinidad’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century slave labor energy economy and its contemporary oil industry. Hughes shows how both forms of energy rely upon a complicity that absolves producers and consumers from acknowledging the immoral nature of each. He passionately argues that like slavery, producing oil is a moral choice and that oil is at its most dangerous when it is accepted as an ordinary part of everyday life. Only by rejecting arguments that oil is economically, politically, and technologically necessary, and by acknowledging our complicity in an immoral system, can we stem the damage being done to the planet.
David McDermott Hughes is a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. In research and teaching, he explores ways in which people exploit each other while exploiting nature, environments, and the entire biosphere. He has written ethnography, history, and public criticism on topics as diverse as settler colonialism, racism, slavery, land reform, climate change, oil, and renewable energy – in Southern Africa, the Caribbean, and the European South. He is the author of many other books, with his most recent titled Who Owns the Wind? Climate Crisis and the Hope of Renewable Energy (Verso Press, 2021). He is also a scholar-activist, having served as president, chief negotiator, and climate justice chair of the Rutgers faculty labor union.
Aleem Mahabir is a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. His research interests lie at the intersection of Urban Geography, Social Exclusion and Psychology. His dissertation research focuses on the link among negative psychosocial dispositions, exclusion, and under-development among marginalized communities in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. You can find him on Twitter.
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