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Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil

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An insightful historical account of how changes in energy production have expanded and restricted possibilities for democratic governance. Because oil could be transported easily, petroleum companies were much more vulnerable to foreign competition. Around 1915 the British Navy was trying to acquire oil from Mexico, then the third largest oil producing company and a part of the world claimed by the Rockefeller interests, which protected itself by funding the overthrow of the government. Mitchell nevertheless makes a strong argument for the influence of oil companies and associated representational-disciplinary entities on destruction of labor and creation of a "limitless resource" economic representation while at the same time limiting production of oil so as to retain profits.

The Iraqi Petroleum Company was run and managed by BP, with no Iraqi ownership, and BP failed to tell the locals for two decades that they had discovered the Rumaila oil field, the world's second largest, because they didn't want it developed. For most of the 20th century, the problem was *too much* oil in the world, which threatened oil companies’ high profits and imperial powers’ control over the resource. Timothy Mitchell's Carbon Democracy examines the simultaneous rise of fossil-fuelled capitalism and mass democracy and asks very intelligent questions about the fate of democracy when oil production declines. According to Mitchell, oil contributed to the concept of the economy as an object of politics, something that, like oil, could seemingly grow without limits. It is nearly impossible to understand contemporary world-political systems without investigating into the relationship between democracies, energy capitalism, and governmentality's powers – as Mitchell does here so well.Ibn Saud's campaign to consolidate power and unify the Arabian Peninsula was financed by Standard of California (now Chevron), which also stopped him when he was moving too far north toward Jordan and Palestine. Reclassification of oil sources has followed the platueau of extraction since 2005, but most of the oldest and biggest oil fields, making up around half of conventional oil production, are all in decline, 5% or more, every year. By the mid-eighteenth century, Great Britain had become a trading power, and it was merchants who benefited first. If we’re ever to curb such behaviour, and to regain some comprehension of our planet’s preciousness, we need first to understand how it came about. After 9/11, there was a whole genre of literature trying to explain why the Middle East is so messed up.

The story of oil is not about the brave and innovative men to found this wondrous substance, but of the efforts to sabotage and limit production growth while never allowing the public to understand what was happening. Although a lot of his argument focuses on oil in the Middle East, I think his argument is strongest in its first portion, where he shows how the methods of coal mining in England - with independent teams of miners working in pairs hauling coal to a rail infrastructure with just a few "choke points" in the caes of a strike - created conditions that helped lead to 20th century labor organization and with it, the modern form of democracy. iii) Furthermore, oil production transferred expertise from workers to their managers and engineers while also requiring new expertise for exploration, political arrangements, international finance, PR, marketing of energy-intensive lifestyles etc.Oil, by comparison, eliminated various choke points and vulnerabilities from the coal-based energy system by removing the number of hands on the supply chain, thereby shifting political power from the middle class to oil firms. On the other hand, Mitchell successfully avoids criticisms of material determinism by elucidating the role of fossil fuels as one of many contributors to political and economic change. In this magisterial study, Timothy Mitchell rethinks the history of energy, bringing into his grasp environmental politics, the struggle for democracy, and the place of the Middle East in the modern world. Can be a little dense, is here and there a bit poorly worded and sometimes erratic in its structure. The economy", Timothy Mitchell explains, was based on the sudden abundance of fossil-fuel energy, a resource that was seen as so nearly infinite that there was no need to even account for its gradual depletion.

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