Bioenergy, Thermodynamics and Inequalities

by Larry Lohmann

first published 15 October 2020

This draft chapter argues that any serious study of bioenergy and global inequalities must take account of the oppression inherent in thermodynamic energy itself. Because this topic is widely neglected by academics and activists alike, the chapter first describes how the abstract nature that we now call energy was organized during the 19th century in conjunction with new waves of capitalist mechanization centred on labour control and productivity. It then goes on to set out some of the ways in which the social or ecological contradictions of thermodynamic energy are intensified in the 21st-century bioeconomy. Finally, the chapter draws out some of the implications for how social movements might place themselves more strategically in struggles over today’s bioeconomy. The chapter was written for a forthcoming book edited by researchers at the University of Jena entitled Bioeconomy and Global Inequalities: Knowledge, Land, Labor, Biomass, Energy, and Politics.

For a 2019 companion piece entitled "Bioenergy: Some Stretching Exercises," see See also The Corner House's 2014 book Energy, Work and Finance, available at, and the 2015 presentation on "Energy as Abstract Social Nature: Climate Change as Labour Issue" at A more recent visual presentation of the argument can be found in the 2021 presentation "Is Energy White? And if so, What does that Mean for Left Strategy?" available at