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 

an identity?

 

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 

economy operators.

 

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.