Indiana Daily Student

Democracy influenced by global energy politics

This year’s 25th annual Paul V. McNutt Lecture was given by Timothy Mitchell, a professor in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.

Mitchell’s lecture, titled “Carbon Politics: Coal, Oil and the Sources of Democracy,” covered the influence these carbon fuels have had on the development of democracy.
Winston Churchill initiated the use of military force to break up coal workers in England due to their ability to control the flow of energy. These crossroads for energy flow were the reason why coal workers were able to band together in the first place, not because they were socially grouped in a concentrated area, Mitchell said.

With oil’s ability to be easily collected and moved, this new fossil fuel affected democracy again.

“The flexibility of oil industry’s ability to deliver through the use of pipelines and tankers weakened the collective organization of energy workers,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the United States began looking for a way to recycle the money it spent on buying oil from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia due to the economic practice of measuring wealth by monetary transactions.

“The U.S. sold weapons,” Mitchell said. “It’s easy to become saturated with the small and expensive objects. Take the fighter jet, for example, they cost tens of millions of dollars.”

The entirety of the lecture, Mitchell said, was based on his book “Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil,” which was published in 2011.

This lecture was part of a series of annual lectures that began in 1988 to honor McNutt, former dean of the IU School of Law, Peter Guardino, Chair of the Department of History, said in an email.

“The series revolves around a series of interlocking themes linked to the professional life of Paul McNutt,” Guardino said.

McNutt served as Indiana’s governor during the New Deal era as well as in FDR’s government.

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