Troy Vettese in Boston Review:
Environmental history lacks an overarching, consensus narrative for the last two centuries, and the environmental movement still does not have a plan for what to do when things get rough. Two recent books—Simon Pirani’s Burning Up and Holly Jean Buck’s After Geoengineering—hint, though, that the movement is at last starting to offer strategic thinking commensurate with the crisis at hand. They reveal how the environmental movement must thoroughly understand neoliberalism to avoid underestimating it as an adversary—or, worse, falling for its charms.
As a researcher at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Pirani might sound like yet another energy analyst, but what sets him apart is his approach, for there aren’t many dyed-in-the-wool Marxists in this line of work. A former member of the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party, Pirani has traded on his close acquaintance with Russia to have a second career studying its methane industry. He has also worked as a journalist and penned books on the Russian revolution and contemporary politics during the Putin era. Burning Up represents the convergence of his parallel professions: it is a history of fossil fuels couched in a Marxist armature. To explain his aim for the book, he quotes the economic historian Adam Tooze, who in 2016 called for “a history that shows how consumption and production became tied together in an expanding feedback loop of ever greater economic and material scope.” Pirani hopes “this book is a step on that path,” but he is too modest. He has written an ambitious history of fossil fuels.