The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude

Hardcover | August 17, 2012

byAndrew Nikiforuk

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A radical analysis of our master-and-slave relationship to energy and a call for change.

Ancient civilizations routinely relied on shackled human muscle. It took the energy of slaves to plant crops, clothe emperors, and build cities. In the early nineteenth century, the slave trade became one of the most profitable enterprises on the planet, and slaveholders viewed religious critics as hostilely as oil companies now regard environmentalists. Yet when the abolition movement finally triumphed in the 1850s, it had an invisible ally: coal and oil. As the world's most portable and versatile workers, fossil fuels dramatically replenished slavery's ranks with combustion engines and other labour-saving tools. Since then, oil has transformed politics, economics, science, agriculture, gender, and even our concept of happiness. But as Andrew Nikiforuk argues in this provocative new book, we still behave like slaveholders in the way we use energy, and that urgently needs to change.

Many North Americans and Europeans today enjoy lifestyles as extravagant as those of Caribbean plantation owners. Like slaveholders, we feel entitled to surplus energy and rationalize inequality, even barbarity, to get it. But endless growth is an illusion, and now that half of the world's oil has been burned, our energy slaves are becoming more expensive by the day. What we need, Nikiforuk argues, is a radical new emancipation movement. Also available in paperback.

Published in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.

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A radical analysis of our master-and-slave relationship to energy and a call for change.Ancient civilizations routinely relied on shackled human muscle. It took the energy of slaves to plant crops, clothe emperors, and build cities. In the early nineteenth century, the slave trade became one of the most profitable enterprises on the pl...

Andrew Nikiforuk is a leading investigative journalist and author of the critically acclaimed Empire of the Beetle and the bestseller Tar Sands, which won the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award. His book Saboteurs: Wiebo Ludwig’s War against Oil was the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. He lives in Calg...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:296 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:August 17, 2012Publisher:Greystone Books Ltd.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1553659783

ISBN - 13:9781553659785

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Customer Reviews of The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from The destruction of our future I will admit that I was a bit skeptical at first when I bought the book, but I was interested in learning about how much we rely on oil to run our lives. This book was by far not a waste of money for me. It was an extremely enjoyable read and easy to read at that. It starts with a bit of history into the slave trade from as far back as the Romans. The history of human slaves were compared to our oil reserves and how both are unsustainable. The impact that this reliance on oil has caused us may be our own undoing. The author highlights what we use oil for and how it has shaped our society in the 21st century. I would recommend this book to anyone as it is a book that shows a progression throughout history and anyone can keep up with reading it. It is a eye opening and compelling book with little gibberish. A+
Date published: 2015-03-01

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Editorial Reviews

"Our overwhelming societal dependence on oil is usually discussed in economic terms. This book looks at our Promethean petro-prowess through an ethical lens, and the result is both shocking and deeply enlightening. This is required reading for everyone who uses oil (do you know anyone who doesn't?)." -- Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow, Post Carbon Institute, and author of "The End of Growth"  "With his new book, Nikiforuk adds a robustly researched and smoothly written overview of the many challenges confronting our devotion to fossil fuels." -- Quill & Quire  "'The Energy of Slaves' offers a profoundly moral case against the diminishing returns now offered by oil dependency." -- Maclean's  "Nikiforuk makes a compelling case that the cost of our energy slaves is far higher than we imagine." -- Winnipeg Free Press  "...His award-winning 'Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent' packed a similar punch, and this provocative, if ominous-sounding book is never less than engaging...Hope lies in powering down and throwing off the chains binding us to "inanimate slaves in our households and places of work." The "new abolitionists," in fact, are already among us; they "eat slowly, travel locally, plant gardens, work ethically...eschew bigness in economic and political life." As visions go, it’s the best available." -- Toronto Star  "Nikiforuk makes the case that the cheap and plentiful energy provided by oil, and the luxuries it affords, have deeply altered our society." -- Vue Weekly