Growth by Abandonment: Oil booms, busts, and the production of financial and environmental crisis

Authors: Benjamin Rubin*, CUNY - Graduate Center
Topics: Anthropocene, Economic Geography, Environment
Keywords: Environmental Racism, Environmental Justice, Finance, Racial Capitalism, Extractivism, Oil, Gas
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Texas oil production has been central to US oil & gas industry throughout its history, and has continually moved through progressive boom-bust cycles. The late 70s oil boom––enabled by lax environmental and banking standards––invigorated the state’s oil economy, but its reliance on easy credit meant that the 1986 price collapse became a state-wide crisis which transformed Texas’ politics and economy. Former oil fields are being revalorized in a new fracking boom which is causing extensive environmental harm, and is forming a precarious speculative bubble. My research starts by questioning the relationship between the parallel crises of environmental ‘slow violence’ and the financial crashes which result from the same boom dynamics. However, while recession and financial default often metastasize into a deeper social crisis, the process of continual environmental degradation and ‘wastelanding’ does not inherently constitute a crisis for the state or capital accumulation. I understand the production of these two forms of crisis as linked through what I refer to as “growth by abandonment”–– investment that actively abandons spaces through environmental destruction in the present, and by structuring future rounds of ‘vagabond’ abandonment’ of place and people with the collapse of accumulation growth. Following the ways that “finance capital is amoral yet politically active,” as well as reliant on racial difference, I will argue that the current boom is organized on the social hierarchies entrenched in the previous bust, and conclude by asking how responses to a future crash are already being shaped.

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