Kathleen Brosnan is the Paul and Doris Eaton Travis Chair of Modern American History at the University of Oklahoma.
Known as the Windy City and the Hog Butcher to the World, Chicago has earned a more apt sobriquet—City of Lake and Prairie—with this compelling, innovative, and deeply researched environmental history. Sitting at the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan, one of the largest freshwater bodies in the world, and on the eastern edge of the tallgrass prairies that fill much of the North American interior, early residents in the land that Chicago now occupies enjoyed natural advantages, economic opportunities, and global connections over centuries, from the Native Americans who first inhabited the region to the urban dwellers who built a metropolis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As one millennium ended and a new one began, these same features sparked a distinctive Midwestern environmentalism aimed at preserving local ecosystems. Drawing on its contributors’ interdisciplinary talents, this volume reveals a rich but often troubled landscape shaped by communities of color, workers, and activists as well as complex human relations with industry, waterways, animals, and disease.
Fossil fuels propelled industries and nations into the modern age and continue to powerfully influence economies and politics today. As Energy Capitals demonstrates, the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels has proven to be a mixed blessing in many of the cities and regions where it has occurred.
With case studies from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Africa, and Australia, this volume views a range of older and more recent energy capitals, contrasts their evolutions, and explores why some capitals were able to influence global trends in energy production and distribution while others failed to control even their own destinies. Chapters show how local and national politics, social structures, technological advantages, education systems, capital, infrastructure, labor force, supply and demand, and other factors have affected the ability of a region to develop and control its own fossil fuel reserves. The contributors also view the environmental impact of energy industries and demonstrate how, in the depletion of reserves or a shift to new energy sources, regions have or have not been able to recover economically.
The cities of Tampico, Mexico, and Port Gentil, Gabon, have seen their oil deposits exploited by international companies with little or nothing to show in return and at a high cost environmentally. At the opposite extreme, Houston, Texas, has witnessed great economic gain from its oil, natural gas, and petrochemical industries. Its growth, however, has been tempered by the immense strain on infrastructure and the human transformation of the natural environment. In another scenario, Perth, Australia, Calgary, Alberta, and Stavanger, Norway have benefitted as the closest established cities with administrative and financial assets for energy production that was developed hundreds of miles away.
Whether coal, oil, or natural gas, the essays offer important lessons learned over time and future considerations for the best ways to capture the benefits of energy development while limiting the cost to local populations and environments.