Naomi Klein, in a book excerpt at The Nation, doesn’t quite say that fossil fuels = slavery. In fact, she doesn’t quite say it about five times in one paragraph. I learned something from her essay, though: I never knew I was an “extractivist”. And if “heading an oil company that actively sabotages climate science and lobbies aggressively…” is a “heinous moral crime”, I’m guilty of at least a few venial sins. Where do I go for absolution?
While not equivalent, the dependence of the US economy on slave labor—particularly in the Southern states—is certainly comparable to the modern global economy’s reliance on fossil fuels. But the analogy, as all acknowledge, is far from perfect. Burning fossil fuels is of course not the moral equivalent of owning slaves or occupying countries. (Though heading an oil company that actively sabotages climate science and lobbies aggressively against emission controls, while laying claim to enough interred carbon to drown populous nations like Bangladesh and boil sub-Saharan Africa, is indeed a heinous moral crime.) Nor were the movements that ended slavery and defeated colonial rule in any way bloodless: nonviolent tactics like boycotts and protests played major roles, but slavery in the Caribbean was outlawed only after numerous slave rebellions were brutally suppressed. And, of course, abolition in the United States came only after the carnage of the Civil War.