Fossil Sense (concept)
The title of the project -Fossil Sense- refers to the logical, societal and cultural narratives
made possible by fossil energy.
It brings up questions: Is fossil energy an actor and a narrative in itself, is it a reason, is it
It answers to the question ”does the history of the Romanian parliament area make
sense?” - Yes, it makes Fossil Sense.
It predicts the future: Relationship to energy is a fundamental factor in the future
development of Bucharest.
The project is based on a ”naftologist” perspective in history writing:
”that is, the experiential relevance of a given energy regime, especially the current fossil capitalism, its geophilosophy,
anthropology, geography, mythology and so on...the main point is to try to understand how and why the material/spiritual
constraints of energy regimes/subsistence activities are revealed/hidden/embedded/forgotten in the lives of the people
engaged in those energy regimes/subsistence activities.” – philosopher Tere Vadén in his blog Nuvatsia.
Bucharest and especially the area of the parliament house (known also
as Ceaușescu Palace) has staged vast and continuing changes during the last five
decades. Massive building projects started by the communist regime were continued by
Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship and following post-socialist regimes and market
Official historical narrative sees the changes trough political aims and ideological power
structures. Architecture and city planning in the area exhibit the understanding of humanity
and it's fundaments in different political frameworks.
Recent scientific, philosophical and cultural analyses highlight the fundamental role of
fossil energy in the economical, political and cultural development of industrial consumerist
societies and modernist (as well as post-modernist) identity construction. The world's as
well as Romania's energy use per capita increased approximately 250% between years
1960-1990, mostly based on fossil fuels. From year 1990 to 2000 energy consumption in
Romania decreased and has grown again rapidly since year 2000. These changes can be
clearly seen in the architectural processes of the parliament area.
Expanding energy production, consumption and trade can be analysed as a meta-
narrative behind the political and economical changes. Energy markets, especially the
changing price of oil, have had strong effects on international power structures, the
collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the Romanian society and its foreign relations.
These notions create an alternative viewpoint to history: societal changes might be seen
as reflecting the economical structures based on energy trade and fossil subjectivity:
”The sort of economic growth we are accustomed to would also have been an impossible proposition had it not been
continually fed by high energy returns on energy invested (EROEI). Shale oil and other unconventional sources and
methods do not change the bottom line: on a civilization level EROEI will begin to drop rapidly in the coming years. In
1920, EROEI ratios may have stood as high as 100:1 but even the most optimistic current estimates stand at
approximately 20:1.The margin is becoming very narrow and, as Zencey and others have suggested, to maintain
“anything like what we call civilization” we need an EROEI of at least 5:1. However, a civilization at that EROEI will
significantly differ from our current understanding of “modern” and is likely to be considerably closer to an economy
based on manual labor than a hi-tech “green capitalist” system. A political pessimist might take that to mean a form of
slavery, something that is already a reality in the poor south where the well-oiled life is already conditional upon hard
physical graft. …
While it goes without saying that the Cartesian subject, Kant’s Copernican revolution, and other philosophical
concepts relating to the “subject,” were developed before the forward march of oil, without fossil input they would
arguably have remained mere speculation on the human condition, a collection of purely theoretical models, which they
surely will become after the end of the Oil Age. But modern man is made of oil from top to toe, the fossil subject clings to
life powered by death. If this indeed is the situation, and crude production does face a historical decline, the petroleum
subject, “the fossil man,” will have been undergoing a metamorphosis for some time.” -Antti Salminen, Mustarinda 2014
Helsinki Photography Biennial edition
Fossil Sense suggests a historical narrative where the formation of both communist and
capitalist systems are guided and limited by the possibilities of material production and
consumption. This perspective enables to foresee the future development of the
parliament area through scientific knowledge concerning the planetary boundaries limiting
material and energy consumption.
According to central research institutions (including IEA) conventional oil reserves can't
feed human kind's growing demand of energy. Arctic, shale oil and other unconventional
resources have significantly lower energy return (EROI) than we are used to. Recent
studies and reports show that 70% of all known fossil fuel resources must be left
untouched to avoid the catastrophic (+4-6°C) climate change.
Over 1300 scientists have signed the so-called Consensus Report, the core of which can
be summarized as follows: ”Based on the best scientific information available, human
quality of life will suffer substantial degradation by year 2050 if we continue on our current
path”. One of the writers (member of Realist Institute, see below), stated that the sentence
means in practical terms that our civilization will collapse within the next forty years.
According to the study, catastrophe can be avoided only by changing society’s operational
logic rapidly, in the next 20 years.
From this perspective continuing to build more structures based on the consumption of
fossil energy shouldn't be approached as building, creating or adding value into the system
but can be better identified as speeding up the collapse or actively producing ruins by
consuming the life support systems of society.
Is this something new or is it actually encrypted in the origins of consumerism, fossil
capitalism and identities built on these? Ceausescu’s Palace isn’t planned to serve
functional needs. Nor are the more contemporary structures like hypermarkets and
motorways. They might be seen more as imaginary abstractions needed for identity
construction in the different societal ideals produced by fossil energy. The reason behind
these structures might be simple. They were made mainly because it was possible to do
so. Or they might be even understood more like formations of energy flows than
expressions of will of individuals or masses.
When searching for narratives enabling the formation of a post-fossil society, culture and a
value system, we can almost see it in the same image with the parliament house.
Romania's agricultural production has been criticised as one of the less developed in the
EU, which also means that it's one of the less dependent on fossil fuels and artificial
fertilisers. The level of biodiversity has remained one of the highest in Europe; per capita
CO2 levels are the lowest in the EU. The low level of income especially in the countryside
is causing troubles, but it also cuts unnecessary consumption.
When looking from the perspective of the scientific Consensus Report, Romania's way is
actually something for the other EU states to follow. Also the contradictions and difficulties
Romania is facing are most probably something that all the others member states have to
cope with too. Fossil Sense in Romania is to be translated as special expertise in
something urgently essential for all of us.