- Programme Manager for Master's in Human Ecology
- Teaches on 3-6 courses
Current research project
Why did our economy become so dependent on fossil fuels? What roles have they played in the historical development of capitalism? What are the forces perpetuating this dangerous thing we refer to as business-as-usual – and how can they be defeated? These are, broadly, the issues I try to approach in my research. More specifically, I am looking at the rise of coal as a source of mechanical energy in industrial production and transportation in nineteenth-century Britain and its Empire. My PhD thesis, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam-Power in the British Cotton Industry, c. 1825-1848, and the Roots of Global Warming, defended in 2014, examines the transition from water-wheels to steam-engines in the cotton-mills of northern England and Scotland and draws some lessons for today: to make a very long story very short, capital required a source of energy amenable to concentration in space and acceleration in time. It still seems to do so. In 2016, Verso published my book Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, based on the thesis. It received the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize for that year.
I am working on a sequel, provisionally entitled Fossil Empire, on how Britain deployed steamboats, railroads and their shared foundations – mines and depots of coal – to subjugate and integrate the peripheries of the nineteenth-century world-economy. I focus on Egypt/the Levant, India, China and West Africa. As it happens, these regions hold some of the people most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming – particularly sea level rise – now and in the near future. I have recently made forays into environmental philosophy; in 2017, Verso will publish my The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World, a theoretical essay on how to understand nature and society and their intertwinement in the light of climate change, criticising currents such as constructionism, hybridism, new materialism and post-humanism and advocating a more activist, dialectical alternative anchored in historical materialism. I have also worked a bit on ecocriticism; a recent paper in Forum for Modern Language Studies, which won the annual essay prize of that journal, proposes a new way of reading fossil fuel fiction. I have conducted research on the political ecology of vulnerability and adaption to sea level rise in the Nile Delta, as well as on solar-power in Morocco. I am working on a book about the politics of wilderness in a changing climate and involved in a collective project on geoengineering. I am, in short, interested in a wide range of aspects of the power relations of a rapidly warming world in urgent need of cooling down.
I am a member of the editorial board of the journal Historical Materialism. I manage the masters' programme in human ecology at Lund University, known as Culture, Power and Sustainability.
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