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China as Chimney of the World: The Fossil Capital Hypothesis

  • Andreas Malm
Publishing year: 2012
Language: English
Pages: 146-177
Publication/Series: Organization & Environment
Volume: 25
Issue: 2
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: SAGE Publications

Abstract english

What has caused the early 21st-century emissions explosion in China? Driving a global explosion, it appears to stand in some relation to processes of globalization, but these links have mostly remained unexplored. This article revisits some established frameworks for understanding the connection between globalization and environmental degradation and argues that they are insufficient for explaining the Chinese explosion. A new hypothesis is outlined, called "the fossil capital hypothesis." It proposes that globally mobile capital will tend to relocate production to countries with cheap and disciplined labor, but only through the accelerated consumption of fossil energy. Via three specified "effects," the inflow of global capital will therefore set off massive increases in CO2 emissions. The hypothesis is applied in a brief analysis of developments in China between 2001 and 2008, and in other Asian countries after the Chinese strike wave in 2010.


  • Social and Economic Geography
  • CO2 emissions
  • globalization
  • China
  • embodied emissions in trade
  • labor
  • fossil capital
  • environmental Kuznets curve in reverse


  • ISSN: 1552-7417
E-mail: andreas [dot] malm [at] hek [dot] lu [dot] se

Associate senior lecturer

Human Ecology


The Department of Human Geography
and the Human Ecology Division

Address: Sölvegatan 10,
223 62 Lund
Phone: 046-222 17 59

Faculty of Social Sciences