The World of Coal


On Barak

Publisher Van Leer Institute Press & Hakibbutz Hameuchad
Language Hebrew
Year of Publication 2024
Series Global Objects

Coal is the power that fueled imperialism in the nineteenth century and enabled the export of the industrial revolution from the British Isles across the sea. Thus, coal-fired steam engines and the related technologies—steamships, trains, water desalination instruments, telegraph networks, and more—were the main power that created the Middle East we know today and the rest of the modern world. The age of coal has another legacy: global warming and the climate crisis, which threaten the very existence of humankind. Despite the supposed transition to green and renewable energies, humankind still burns increasing quantities of coal. In this sense, we have remained deeply rooted in the nineteenth century.

Given the urgent need to wean the global economy from fossil fuels and to rid the atmosphere of greenhouse gases created by burning them, The World of Coal outlines the history of the globalization of the coal economy. By tracing the connections between energy and empire, capitalism and monotheism, On Barak describes the array of forces that ignited the global distribution of British coal—and shortly after, coal from other sources worldwide—and subsequently the distribution of additional fuels such as oil and natural gas, which never supplanted coal. The book shows that the global distribution of fossil fuels relied on contradictory processes, was nourished by structural conflicts, and was promoted by unexpected agents. It also reveals unexpected resources that can help in coping with the crisis today.

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