Accepted Paper:

Energy debt, solar dreams and the Greek financial crisis  


Sandy Smith-Nonini (University of North Carolina)

Paper short abstract:

Financialization tied to oil dependence contributed to the Greek debt crisis. This manipulation by multinational and local elites, exacerbated debt and energy poverty. I argue that debt linked to fossil fuel access is “imperial rent, and therefore “odious.”

Paper long abstract:

Challenges maintaining small electric grids on its many islands, isolated from the mainland grid, has led Greece (and many other island and peninsular nations) to rely heavily on oil shipped through ports to generate electricity. This dependency has contributed to energy poverty, structural inequities and financial crises. In recent decades, multinational corporate elites, in league with local officials, learned to game this vulnerability of oil dependency to generate short term profits through investments in industries like shipping, tourism and over-priced fossil fuel projects. I draw on historical economic data, social science and media, to illustrate this relationship and compare the Greek case with other oil-dependent, highly indebted states or territories, including other European "PIIGS" states and Puerto Rico. I examine the concept of "imperialist rent" -- monopoly superprofits that derive from structural inequities (which I argue is "odious debt") -- for analyzing fossil fuel debt under petrocapitalism. Renewable energy holds promise for more equitable development, but the recent solar scale-up in Greece provides a counter-narrative in which elite profit-seeking, boosted by incentives to meet EU emissions cuts, fostered high debt accrual and poorly designed projects which benefit a monopoly utility more than energy-poor citizens. The abuse and poor regulation of carbon offset funds in Greece, coupled with other cases of fraud and manipulation in the European Trading System, hold important lessons for the coming financialization that will accompany carbon trading in other parts of the world.

Panel WIM-GF02
Fictions of capital: movements and modalities