Free the Planet: Jean-Francois Mouhot Traces a Link between Climate Change and Slavery, and Suggests That Reliance on Fossil Fuels Has Made Slave Owners of Us All
Mouhot, Jean-Francois, History Today
Most of us approach slavery with the underlying assumption that our modern civilization is morally far superior to the barbaric slave-owning societies of the past. But are we really so different? If we compare our current attitude to fossil fuels and climate change with the behaviour of the slave owners, there are more similarities than one might immediately perceive.
Historians have long argued that there are numerous links between the commerce of slaves and the Industrial Revolution. Slavery encouraged early industrial production in a circular way, by channelling demand for goods and providing capital for investments. The slave trade stimulated production: slaves were exchanged against goods produced by manufacturers in Europe, such as textiles or firearms; the demand for padlocks and fetters to chain slaves represented a significant market for burgeoning industrial cities like Birmingham. Goods grown by slave labour and exported by planters helped create the first mass consumer markets and made Europe dependent on imported commodities. Plantation agriculture also resembled the 'factories in the field' that prefigured the manufacturers of the future. Finally--though the importance of this phenomenon is still debated--some of the capital accumulated by slave traders and planters fuelled investment in new machinery, which helped to kick start the Industrial Revolution. Slave traders therefore played a significant--if perhaps indirect--role in the establishment of the industrialist system at the core of our contemporary societies.
Ironically, there are also connections between the Industrial Revolution and the demise of slavery. A striking correlation exists between the rise of anti-slavery movements and the advent of steam-driven machines. A few industrialists at the time perceived that steam power might ultimately reduce the need for slaves. For example, Birmingham …
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Publication information: Article title: Free the Planet: Jean-Francois Mouhot Traces a Link between Climate Change and Slavery, and Suggests That Reliance on Fossil Fuels Has Made Slave Owners of Us All. Contributors: Mouhot, Jean-Francois - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 58. Issue: 8 Publication date: August 2008. Page number: 42+. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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