Australia has until recently been somewhat insulated from the turbulence in the global political economy. In large measure, this can be attributed to the buoyant international demand for Australian iron ore, coal and gas, but this situation is being severely challenged. Reining in the combustion of fossil fuels to mitigate climate change has become increasingly urgent, though an orderly transition to renewable energy sources is being compromised by the disruption in global supply chains consequent upon the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition has also been frustrated by European attempts to dissuade Russia from continuing to attack Ukraine by imposing boycotts on Russian gas and coal imports, which has had an inflationary knock-on effect on the price of these commodities. While this has been to the advantage of the extractive industries in Australia, it has punished Australian energy consumers and provided a pretext for Federal and State government approvals for expanded coal mining and for the extraction of gas on an unparalleled scale.
The likely increase in greenhouse gases consequent upon this sanctioning of fossil fuel-led development is the uglier face of the ‘resource curse’. A new special issue of The Journal of Australian Political Economy considers the resulting tensions and political challenges. The issue contains critical analyses that explore the dynamic development of a selection of extractive industry ventures in the global political economy. Responding to an invitation by the editors of the journal, various authors present case studies that speak to the issue of the ‘resource curse’, while also seeking to move beyond a focus on managing the ‘extractivist’ economy. The result is a broader conceptualisation of the forces shaping the dynamics of the political economy, beyond the structural adjustments associated with the preoccupation with international trade, the rebalancing of the terms of trade, or the international competitive pressures associated with the increase in the value of resource exports.
One critical aspect of this political economic analysis of fossil fuel extractivism is what James O’Connor identified as an undermining of the ‘conditions for accumulation’ evident in the accelerating ecological crisis. There is now an unavoidable question mark over fossil fuels as the pivot of accumulation which disrupts their exploitation as a ‘resource’. Simultaneously though, new resource extraction opportunities, such as nickel mining, are spawning new pressure points.
This special issue of JAPE brings together several case studies of resource-based accumulation in the global north and global south that move beyond analyses pitched in terms of the ‘resource curse’. The articles foreground the contradictions in resource-extraction based capital accumulation, identifying the forces that emerge to contest or modify the trajectories of accumulation.
Three of the articles in the special theme issue address different aspects of Australia’s fossil-fuel extractivist economy, each seeking to identify a path to moving beyond reliance on fossil fuels. A fourth, with a more historical focus, points to the enfranchisement struggles during the Australian gold rushes highlighting the clash between the squattocracy and the mass-based gold mining sector in the push for democratic rights. In two other articles, case studies of Mozambique and India, the limited purchase of social movements contesting dispossession shows the hegemonic but precarious status of fossil capital. A further case study of New Caledonia considers the turn to renewable energy and the import of the catalytical force and contradictions consequent upon the rush to transition and gain control of new extractive dynamics. Returning to Australia, the final article examines the concerns arising from Santos’s proposed gas venture in the Narrabri region.
Throughout all these articles, the focus on contradictory aspects of extractivism and the associated struggles is an integrative theme. As guest editors of this special issue of the journal, we recommend that you check it out.