Land, Energy, and Value in the Technocene

  • Alf Hornborg
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Anthropology of Sustainability book series (PSAS)


On January 5, 1769, James Watt was granted a patent for a steam engine efficient enough to inaugurate the Industrial Revolution. It signified an epochal shift to fossil fuels as a source of mechanical energy. The technological ingenuity of the design of steam engines has been celebrated as the cause of this shift, but its prerequisites were fundamentally social. The British shift to steam power was a response to the world market demand for great volumes of inexpensive cotton cloth. Much of this demand came from slave traders in West Africa and slave owners in America, and these very slaves supplied the British cotton textile industry with inexpensive raw material. The steam engine, in other words, was made possible not only by James Watt’s engineering, but by the eighteenth-century world-system in which capital accumulation in Britain was based on African slave labor and depopulated American land.


Fossil Fuel Technological Progress Industrial Revolution Ecological Footprint Mainstream Economic 
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© Alf Hornborg 2016

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  • Alf Hornborg

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