Crisis in the Tar Sands: Fossil Capitalism and the Future of the Alberta Hydrocarbon Economy

In: Historical Materialism
Tyler McCreary Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Florida State University Tallahassee, Florida United States of America

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Using a case study of Alberta, Canada, this paper demonstrates how a geographic critique of fossil capitalism helps elucidate the tensions shaping tar sands development. Conflicts over pipelines and Indigenous territorial claims are challenging development trajectories, as tar sands companies need to expand access to markets in order to expand production. While these conflicts are now well recognised, there are also broader dynamics shaping development. States face a rentier’s dilemma, relying on capital investments to realise resource value. Political responses to the emerging climate crisis undercut the profitability of hydrocarbon extraction. The automation of production undermines the industrial compromise between hydrocarbon labour and capital. Ultimately, the crises of fossil capitalism require a radical transformation within or beyond capital relations. To mobilise against the tar sands, organisers must recognise the tensions underpinning it, developing strategies that address ecological concerns and the economic plight of those dispossessed and abandoned by carbon extraction.

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