Slavery & Fossil Fuels – Chris Hayes: “The New Abolitionism”


The secondary reading for tomorrow’s class in Chris Hayes’ essay “The New Abolitionism.” In this piece, Hayes makes an audacious but ultimately illuminating comparison between the abolitionist movement in the 19th century and what today’s climate change activists face today:

Because the abolitionists were ultimately successful, it’s all too easy to lose sight of just how radical their demand was at the time: that some of the wealthiest people in the country would have to give up their wealth. That liquidation of private wealth is the only precedent for what today’s climate justice movement is rightly demanding: that trillions of dollars of fossil fuel stay in the ground. It is an audacious demand, and those making it should be clear-eyed about just what they’re asking. They should also recognize that, like the abolitionists of yore, their task may be as much instigation and disruption as it is persuasion. There is no way around conflict with this much money on the line, no available solution that makes everyone happy. No use trying to persuade people otherwise.

Note how carefully Hayes makes his point here and throughout the essay: he’s not comparing fossil fuel companies to slave owners; he’s using the example to demonstrate how radical the demands made by climate justice activists truly are — and he’s encouraging them to make precisely these demands in the name of justice — based on what’s right and wrong — not on what’s convenient or easy to digest.

I’m really looking forward to discussing this essay and Squarzoni’s Climate Changed in class with you tomorrow night.

(Photo: “Oil Pump Jack” in West Texas. By Paul Lowry on Flickr).

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