INTRODUCTION
How does it feel to change the climate? This question seems more absurd
than impolite. It implies a chain of causation and responsibility that still
remains invisible and mostly unacknowledged. In fact, some people—a
billion high emitters—burn oil and otherwise pump carbon dioxide (co2)
into the atmosphere at a rate dangerous to societies and ecosystems every-
where (Chakravarty et al. 2010). A slice of this population—overrepre-
sented in the United States—disputes the science and scenarios of climate
change. But explicit denial is less widespread than silence and disregard.
The bulk of informed consumers simply don’t care a great deal about
carbon emissions and their consequences. Tobacco provokes stronger re-
actions, indeed sometimes a disgust verging on revulsion. Where is the
revulsion over flood, drought, and myriad other catastrophic shifts in the
conditions for life and society on planet Earth? Menacing as it increasingly
is, climate change has yet to become a moral issue for most people.
Energy without Conscience seeks to explain this persistent banality. I
am not trying to expose—as others have done—the greed of individuals,
firms, or governments. Capitalism and convenience certainly underwrite
the status quo. Yet means-to-ends reasoning does not account fully for
the abundance of support for fossil fuels. Cultural meanings also sustain
hydrocarbons. In the oil profession itself, people drill for noneconomic, as
well as economic, motives. “The romance [among oil geologists] was not
really based on money, which was only a way of keeping score,” reminisces
the Texan John Graves (1995, xi–xii) in an essay on prospecting. His nos-
talgia exceeds his greed. I am interested in such cultural dispositions and
discourses. As I argue, they obscure responsibility for carbon emissions
among those most responsible and those most susceptible—technicians
in and local bystanders to the fossil fuel business (who are often the same
people). Certain modes of thought inside and outside the industry push a
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