Calgary author Andrew Nikiforuk trains pen on Energy of Slaves

Calgary author Andrew Nikiforuk trains pen on Energy of Slaves by Eric Volmers, August 31, 2012, Calgary Herald
Perhaps it’s because Andrew Nikiforuk has spent so much of his time addressing controversial issues — whether it be “eco-terrorist” Wiebo Ludwig, Alberta as a “Petro state”, or how Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s evangelical leanings affect his environmental policies — that his measure of what is and isn’t a provocative subject is different to most. But the Governor-General-Award-winning Calgary author says he doesn’t think his new book, The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude (Greystone Books, 296 Pages, $29.95) is particularly provocative. This may not be what his publisher wants to hear. Certainly the book’s premise, which is to compare the average North American energy consumer to slave owners, sounds like a button-pushing theory no matter how much philosophizing and historical context backs it up. But Nikiforuk insists it’s not as far-out as it may seem. The more he dug, the more similarities he found and the more disturbed he became. “Most people forget that slavery was an energy institution, first and foremost,” says Nikiforuk. “It wasn’t about race, it wasn’t about class, it was about energy. It was about enslaving human muscle to get work done. And one of the most striking things about slavery is how callous the slaveholders were. Even though, let’s say in Roman society, they performed about every essential task, they literally had no standing. They were completely expendable.

“We have the fossil fuel crowd saying we need to ‘drill, baby, drill and get more of this stuff’ and we have the greens saying ‘no we just have to switch over to renewables.’ And neither camp wants to admit the difficulty of running on either resource. The unconventional fossil fuels are damned expensive and will take a toll on the economy as well as on the climate. Renewables are also damned expensive and there are limits to how they can be employed. Every form of energy comes with some form of sacrifice and imposes some sort of servitude.”

“I wanted to get to the root of why we use energy so thoughtlessly,” he says. “And part of it, I think, stems from our whole experience with slavery as an energy institution. It’s saying something about human beings. When there’s an abundance of energy that was relatively easy to procure, in the case of enslaving other human beings, we really don’t give a sh—t about the consequences.” … Unlike Tar Sands, Nikiforuk specifically aimed this book at Americans. Alberta only warrants a few mentions. Stephen Harper doesn’t show up at all. America has set the bar for consumption as the world’s first petro state that globalized the use and production of oil, he says. And as oil becomes more and more expensive, it’s no surprise that life has diminished in America and its society become more polarized and divisive. “It many respects, it horrifies me,” Nikiforuk says.

“I’m hoping this book, because so much of it is really steeped in 19th Century conservative philosophy and also Christian thinking, might end some of that polarization or might help to bridge some of it,” he says. “But who knows, these days. The debate has become so incredibly polarized and dumbed down. It is almost completely at this point of time a stupid debate among stupid people.”

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