What is the connection between the abolition of slavery, the Industrial Revolution, the use fossil fuels and climate change? Jean-François Mouhot of Birmingham University recently discussed this question in an article in the journal Climatic Change. In this episode of the podcast Mouhot presents his idea that that slaves in the past and fossil-fuelled machines at present play similar economic and social roles: both slave and modern societies externalised labour and both slaves and modern machines freed their owners from daily chores. Consequently, modern society is as dependent on fossil fuels as slave societies were dependent on bonded labour. Mouhot also suggests that, in differing ways, suffering resulting (directly) from slavery and (indirectly) from the excessive burning of fossil fuels are now morally comparable. The pocast concludes with some suggestions of the lessons which may be learned from the abolition of slavery in the 19th century for dealing with modern climate change and the associated energy transition.

Literature cited
D.B. Davis, Inhuman bondage, the rise and fall of slavery in the new world (Oxford: University Press, Oxford, 2006)

Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery by (Macmillan, 2005)

J.R. McNeill, Something new under the sun. An environmental history of the twentieth century (London: Penguin, 2000)

J. R. McNeill and William H. McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye View of World History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003)

Jean-Francois Mouhot, “Past connections and present similarities in slave ownership and fossil fuel usage”, Climatic Change, Published online, 25 November 2010,http://www.springerlink.com/content/w310wk5g49w83650/ (freely accessible until 31 December 2010).

Relevant links
Jean-François Mouhot, “Slavery and Climate Change: Lessons to Be Learned”History & Policy (2009)

Jean-François Mouhot, “Cancun Summit: The True Reasons for the ‘Failure’ of the Green Movement”, ActiveHistory.ca (2010).