Why Colonialism Happened

Follow the energy

indi.ca

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I was in my daughters class for her ‘book look’ and I saw something interesting. It was a map of the world by climate zones. The colder countries in the north and the warmer climate to the south. This struck me because it’s a map of why colonialism happened.

The cold, sun-poor regions stole solar energy from the south, and the sun-stained people that lived there. Then ‘they’ dug up even more stored solar energy (fossil fuels) and colonized even harder. Now it’s all ending in tears as the climate ‘they’ exploited is falling apart. To understand this just follow the money, I mean the energy, I mean the sun.

The Sun

My daughter’s map is a map of where the sun hits the earth. This is really where the energy is, the source of almost all energy in the world. We take the sun for granted in our fallen age, but the ancients worshiped the sun for good reason. The sun doesn’t just keep us warm, it grows and feeds all plants and animals (including us), powering all labor. Even energy sources we don’t think of as solar-powered — like wind and hydropower — actually are. As Dr. Tom Murphy writes in his physics textbook:

Wind is replenished daily by the sun heating the land and driving air currents. Solar energy drives the hydrological cycle, refilling the reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams. Plants grow back to replace harvested ones — again thanks to the sun. Ocean currents and waves are also driven by the sun, via wind.

This energy framework is vital to understanding colonialism because under all the history, all the politics, and the philosophy there is an exercise of raw power across the globe. Of energy. Beneath all the gold, all the stock markets, all the filthy lucre, that’s what it comes down to. The universal currency. As Vaclav Smil said, “Energy is the only universal currency: one of its many forms must be transformed to get anything done.”

The sun is also vital to understanding colonialism because that’s the source of most power. That’s why people from the cold north came here and we didn’t go. As I think every time I go to England to eat shitty food and freeze my toes off, fucking why? The colonizers were following the sun. The reason for colonization of the south is the same reason Willie Sutton…

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indi.ca

Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.