For those of us battling for radical action on climate change the role of the fossil fuel corporations within capitalism is a key issue. How they operate, why they behave like they do, and their role in maintaining fossil fuel capitalism is central to understanding why states have failed to enact the sort of radical action that is required. Matthew T. Huber's book is an attempt to understand, in the words of the publisher, "If our oil addiction is so bad for us, why don't we kick the habit?"
Huber begins by analysing the way that the oil corporations developed in the United States. It's a fascinating history of how the oil industry came to be closely associated with the US state and how it became central to the US economy. It's a story of dodgy dealings, strikes and repressive measures and state intervention. I learnt a great deal from this history and I would suggest that together with Andreas Malm's wonderful Fossil Capital, it is a very useful read for anyone trying to understand oil's centrality to capitalism. In this review I want to focus on Huber's central thesis. He argues, for instance, that while (say) the anti-war movement have traditionally seen oil as central to US Imperialism, radicals have missed its wider centrality to how capitalism (particularly in the US) functions:
Thus political resistance to the geopolitical games of imperial control over oil reserves must cast their critical sights toward not only the US military state but also the geographies of social reproduction that situate oil as a necessary element of 'life'. The cries of 'no blood for oil' assume oil is a trivial 'thing' but a more effective antipetroleum politics must struggle against the more banal forms through which oil-based life gets naturalised as common sense. (*)Huber continues later:
The forces behind the New Deal attempted to rescue capitalism through the construction of a new way of life based around high wages, home ownership, and auto-centric suburban geographies predicated upon the provision of cheap and abundant oil.This new way of life, the American Dream, was based not simply on oil fuelling the system, but also the cheap goods, abundant food and materials that oil provided. What Huber describes as "a particular suburban landscape: a geography of mass consumption". The New Deal and the Second World War allowed the construction of this new "geography" and the export of this around the world through the Marshall Plan. The US, Huber argues, came out of the War as a "perfected petro-capitalist social formation" with a huge fossil fuel infrastructure for "mass production and mass consumption of petroleum". He continues by showing how everything from housing to food became fossil fuel industries.