Here’s What An ‘Extraction Economy’ Looks Like

J. Henry Fair is a photographer who snaps beautiful and unsettling images of industrial scars. I was recently turned onto this work, and stumbled upon a TED talk he gave last fall in Berlin on the impact of energy extraction on the environment.

At a time when many American politicians are stepping up rhetoric in support of the “extraction economy,” it’s important to see what that really means on the ground.

From coal ash storage to fertilizer production, Fair has accumulated an array of stunning industrial photos — making the invisible costs of energy and consumerism visible.

“Every product, everything we buy, everything that we spend money on has invisible costs. Those costs are hidden costs that usually result in some kind of environmental degradation.”


“Those systems which are providing us with free services — clean air, clean water — as we push those systems into failure, we will ultimately have to pay (or our children will have to pay) to replace those services. In actual fact, what we’re doing, it’s a massive transfer of wealth between the people who are profiting from these extractive processes and our grandchildren.”

Our deeply-held beliefs about never-ending economic growth are being challenged by limited resources and environmental degradation. Is this the type of economy we want to strive for?

Watch Fair’s TED talk: