Violent Past, Hot Present, Extreme Future, SOAS University of London

This Development Studies Seminar titled “Violent Past, Hot Present, Extreme Future: Episodes of Fossil Imperialism and Climate Change in Egypt, India and Nigeria” was given by Andreas Malm at SOAS University of London on 31 January 2017

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Global warming is lapping the shores of countries in the global South with a whole fleet of existential threats. But this is not the first time fossil fuel combustion has visited them. This talk will focus on three places where the British Empire used steamboats to subjugate distant populations and appropriate their resources: Egypt, India and Nigeria, all targets of nineteenth-century imperial expansion powered by coal. What does this tell us about the historical responsibility for climate change? Drawing on debates around climate justice and the Anthropocene, this talk will argue that the concept of ‘climate debt’ can be radicalised, that postcolonial strategies imitating the fossil fuel-based development of the imperial core need to be challenged, and that climate resistance in the global South should be rapidly sped up. A long arch of violence spans the longue durée of the fossil economy, from the first appearance of steam-power into a future of climate chaos that has to be avoided.

Andreas Malm teaches human ecology at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author of Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (Verso, 2016), which received the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize for 2016. He has conducted fieldwork on climate change adaptation and mitigation in Egypt and Morocco, is currently making forays into ecocriticism and environmental philosophy, and is working on a sequel to Fossil Capital entitled Fossil Empire.


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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission