.
L

ast month, parts of California’s skyline looked like a scene from Blade Runner 2049; a burning horizon more suited to the future dystopia than one of the most photographed cities. This sky was so abnormal, in fact, that an iPhone camera could not capture the tint accurately; its software was not designed for a smoke-dimmed planet. This hellish landscape was the result of massive wildfires that burned some 3.2 million acres (and counting).

The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations By Daniel Yergin.

The fiery backdrop provides further evidence that the climate is indeed changing: increased wildfires, record numbers of hurricanes, worsening droughts, and, of course, the rising global temperatures that fuel these catastrophes. Concurrently, the changing weather highlights humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels—oil, gas, and coal—which is driving climate change, and the need to diversify its energy consumption away from these sources. Yet, while technological advances have been made, the geostrategic map remains very much shaped by energy, even if that is a fact that many wish nation-states could overcome.

Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Vice Chairman of IHS Markit, provides a reaffirmation of this fact in his newest book The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations.

Energy Needs as Destiny

The greatest take away from this book is that energy still matters. It is both a driver of and driven by foreign policy. Much like geography, it is often the case that this reality is forgotten. Pundits, analysts, and politicians alike, like to ascribe developments to personalities, long-standing historical grievances, the interplay of technology and society, or any other of the myriad of drivers of foreign relations, but often omit geographical realities on-the-ground and, in this case, energy requirements.

Ironically, this thesis is contradicted by the dust jacket of Yergin’s book. “World politics is being upended” it boldly asserts. However, Yergin’s book reveals that for as much as it is being “upended” world politics remains, well, world politics.

The emergence of shale oil and gas has not fundamentally broken the nature of international relations. To be sure, it has changed the dynamics and afforded (in theory) a freer hand for the United States, but this only goes so far. Other nation-states still vie for advantage, using all the tools of national power—including energy resources—for their gain, seeking to counter and undermine for regional supremacy over Iran, and Washington continues to muddle through it all.

Even domestically, while not be a top-ten issue for American voters, energy politics will be affected by the November election. The outcome of the contest for the Oval Office—only a few weeks away at the time of this review—will shape the energy landscape, at least for the next four years.

Republican President Donald Trump is campaigning on a record of increased energy exports, withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement, and “unleashing oil and gas production in the United States.” The long-term implications of this energy liberalization are unclear, but in the eyes of most analysts while it has contributed to the pre-COVID-19 growth of the American economy, these actions will accelerate human-driven climate change, and undermine environmental and fuel efficiency gains.

Yet, for all the efforts to save the coal industry by the Trump administration, it has continued decline in favor of natural gas and renewables demonstrates the power of the marketplace compared to the bully pulpit in shaping the energy landscape.

His Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, promotes a sweeping plan “that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.” How realistic such a plan is and how it would be sustainably funded in a COVID-driven economic downturn is unclear. Equally unclear is his plan for shale oil and gas, and whether he will restrict “fracking”, potentially undermining the new energy production gains and associated economic growth.

Energy Politics is Power Politics

Still, as the November election illustrates, energy politics is still politics. Yergin captures the shale oil and shale gas revolutions and their impact well. It is a fascinating story of mavericks bucking the trend, believing when no one else would, and reaping the rewards for their commitment—a quintessentially American story. His other vignettes are less enlightening and less novel, something other reviewers have rightly noted.

Yet, shale oil and gas were only so revolutionary. Even when it was again a net exporter of energy, Washington was still unable to escape the realities of energy power politics. America’s involvement in the Middle East—long, and incorrectly, ascribed to the pursuit of controlling the oil and gas below the sands—was more about ensuring global stability and global access to those resources. During the Cold War, it was about countering Soviet dominance of the Gulf; later it was about maintaining as much regional stability as possible. While American reliance on Middle Eastern energy supplies has declined, its role as the indispensable guarantor of the global free flow of oil and gas had not, until recently.

Under successive administrations, the primacy of America’s role in the Middle East steadily declined. During the Obama administration, the United States withdrew from Iraq, sought and secured a nuclear deal with Iran (to the consternation of Saudi Arabia), and shifted the emphasis of its foreign policy away from traditional relationship with monarchies. Under President Trump, the conduct of foreign policy became more transactional and more America-first focused, with the president and his coterie questioning long-held assumptions on America’s role in the world and its global alliances.

Yergin’s exploration of Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia (and the broader Middle East) are interesting, but do not break much in the way of new ground. Readers familiar with recent history, let alone current events, will be unsurprised by the dynamics Yergin discusses: Russia using gas as a weapon in Central and Eastern Europe; Beijing growing closer with Moscow as it views Russia as a potential source of energy for its burgeoning economy and population; and Mohammed bin Salman’s push, in fits and starts, to become less reliant on that which resides below his country’s deserts.

Yergin pays scant little attention to Africa, Latin and South America, and South Asia, a surprising omission given the likely impact these regions will have on the ability of the world to tackle climate change. While there is a chapter on the divergent paths of Brazil and Mexico, it seems to be a separate essay tacked onto the broader piece, not a coherent part of the thesis.

The More Things Change

Yergin focuses on what he knows best—the energy markets and their interplay—and it shows. Where he is a bit short is in seeing around the bend. Who could have foreseen that an all-electric car made by an eccentric billionaire would become exceedingly common on the roads of Washington, Los Angeles, and New York City? Tesla’s rise to chic status symbol and its increasing accessibility for those outside of the upper tax brackets confounded most expectations and is driving a significant change in the automotive industry. The rise in efficiency in wind and solar power, its capture and storage, and its transmission amongst increasingly aging power grids is an equally fascinating development, one that could well contribute to the true “upending” Yergin suggests.

He plays a little fast and loose with the environmental movement and recent developments within the United States and other countries. Successive generations, Millennials and “Gen Z” in particular, are more apt to describe climate change as a global threat and perhaps more inclined to do something in response. What these generations demand from their politicians or do themselves will significant affect the future. The rise of state and local municipalities—along with private sector leaders—stepping in to effect environmental change in the absence of federal leadership is also worth noting. But in the context of his overall thesis, his approach is understandable.

He is right in asserting that traditional energy resources—oil and gas—their pursuit, distribution, and transportation will remain a key driver of international politics. Yes, the world has changed and is continuing to do so. Saudi Arabia sees the writing on the wall and is attempting to create a Silicon Valley in the desert. Oil and gas majors are reallocating resources away from traditional energy sources and towards alternative and renewable fuels. Your next car may well be a Tesla (the reviewer certainly hopes his is) or another all-electric or hybrid vehicle. Energy efficiency standards are rising and inefficient technologies are being driven to obsolescence. The Paris Climate Agreement held great promise, but its unenforceable nature and the continued rise of China and growth of India will challenge its targets and strain its efficacy (to say nothing of America’s withdrawal).

Yet, for all these positive developments, traditional energy politics reign supreme. China asserts its control over the South China Sea for not only territorial security, but also the energy and resources that lie beneath the waves. Beijing will do whatever necessary to ensure the survival of the Chinese Communist Party; economic growth is key to survival; and, economic growth requires energy. Russia is still using gas to assert control over Ukraine and bend Germany to its will via pipeline politics. If anything, that Riyadh and Moscow just waged a price war over oil production that saw futures drop to negative prices, reinforces this reality.

Energy politics have been, and will continue to be, about power politics.

Efficiency is Key

The New Map is an accessible overview of the recent history of energy politics, developments, and their implications. For those curious about how energy resources play into international relations and foreign policy at a strategic level, this is a good volume with which to start. Reading it, however, one is struck by the fact that this could have been half as long and just as good. The canned vignettes are interesting, but do not add a lot to the story. To be sure, there is value in depth and comprehensiveness, but there is value in brevity and concision, as well.

In reality, the map Yergin describes is less “new” than he posits. Politics remains politics, and unless there is a massive breakthrough technology—e.g. nuclear fusion, or exponential increases in energy efficiency or conductivity, or if there is a cataclysmic climate system shock—oil and gas will remain drivers of international politics for the foreseeable future. To be sure, the slow boil of climate change and the global response to it will affect the edges, but absent a new global accord, one that is enforceable in some form or fashion, access to traditional energy resources will drive and shape foreign policy. Energy, like geography, is destiny.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations

Patrick Perkins via Unsplash.

October 17, 2020

The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations | Daniel Yergin | Penguin Press | September 2020.

L

ast month, parts of California’s skyline looked like a scene from Blade Runner 2049; a burning horizon more suited to the future dystopia than one of the most photographed cities. This sky was so abnormal, in fact, that an iPhone camera could not capture the tint accurately; its software was not designed for a smoke-dimmed planet. This hellish landscape was the result of massive wildfires that burned some 3.2 million acres (and counting).

The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations By Daniel Yergin.

The fiery backdrop provides further evidence that the climate is indeed changing: increased wildfires, record numbers of hurricanes, worsening droughts, and, of course, the rising global temperatures that fuel these catastrophes. Concurrently, the changing weather highlights humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels—oil, gas, and coal—which is driving climate change, and the need to diversify its energy consumption away from these sources. Yet, while technological advances have been made, the geostrategic map remains very much shaped by energy, even if that is a fact that many wish nation-states could overcome.

Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Vice Chairman of IHS Markit, provides a reaffirmation of this fact in his newest book The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations.

Energy Needs as Destiny

The greatest take away from this book is that energy still matters. It is both a driver of and driven by foreign policy. Much like geography, it is often the case that this reality is forgotten. Pundits, analysts, and politicians alike, like to ascribe developments to personalities, long-standing historical grievances, the interplay of technology and society, or any other of the myriad of drivers of foreign relations, but often omit geographical realities on-the-ground and, in this case, energy requirements.

Ironically, this thesis is contradicted by the dust jacket of Yergin’s book. “World politics is being upended” it boldly asserts. However, Yergin’s book reveals that for as much as it is being “upended” world politics remains, well, world politics.

The emergence of shale oil and gas has not fundamentally broken the nature of international relations. To be sure, it has changed the dynamics and afforded (in theory) a freer hand for the United States, but this only goes so far. Other nation-states still vie for advantage, using all the tools of national power—including energy resources—for their gain, seeking to counter and undermine for regional supremacy over Iran, and Washington continues to muddle through it all.

Even domestically, while not be a top-ten issue for American voters, energy politics will be affected by the November election. The outcome of the contest for the Oval Office—only a few weeks away at the time of this review—will shape the energy landscape, at least for the next four years.

Republican President Donald Trump is campaigning on a record of increased energy exports, withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement, and “unleashing oil and gas production in the United States.” The long-term implications of this energy liberalization are unclear, but in the eyes of most analysts while it has contributed to the pre-COVID-19 growth of the American economy, these actions will accelerate human-driven climate change, and undermine environmental and fuel efficiency gains.

Yet, for all the efforts to save the coal industry by the Trump administration, it has continued decline in favor of natural gas and renewables demonstrates the power of the marketplace compared to the bully pulpit in shaping the energy landscape.

His Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, promotes a sweeping plan “that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.” How realistic such a plan is and how it would be sustainably funded in a COVID-driven economic downturn is unclear. Equally unclear is his plan for shale oil and gas, and whether he will restrict “fracking”, potentially undermining the new energy production gains and associated economic growth.

Energy Politics is Power Politics

Still, as the November election illustrates, energy politics is still politics. Yergin captures the shale oil and shale gas revolutions and their impact well. It is a fascinating story of mavericks bucking the trend, believing when no one else would, and reaping the rewards for their commitment—a quintessentially American story. His other vignettes are less enlightening and less novel, something other reviewers have rightly noted.

Yet, shale oil and gas were only so revolutionary. Even when it was again a net exporter of energy, Washington was still unable to escape the realities of energy power politics. America’s involvement in the Middle East—long, and incorrectly, ascribed to the pursuit of controlling the oil and gas below the sands—was more about ensuring global stability and global access to those resources. During the Cold War, it was about countering Soviet dominance of the Gulf; later it was about maintaining as much regional stability as possible. While American reliance on Middle Eastern energy supplies has declined, its role as the indispensable guarantor of the global free flow of oil and gas had not, until recently.

Under successive administrations, the primacy of America’s role in the Middle East steadily declined. During the Obama administration, the United States withdrew from Iraq, sought and secured a nuclear deal with Iran (to the consternation of Saudi Arabia), and shifted the emphasis of its foreign policy away from traditional relationship with monarchies. Under President Trump, the conduct of foreign policy became more transactional and more America-first focused, with the president and his coterie questioning long-held assumptions on America’s role in the world and its global alliances.

Yergin’s exploration of Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia (and the broader Middle East) are interesting, but do not break much in the way of new ground. Readers familiar with recent history, let alone current events, will be unsurprised by the dynamics Yergin discusses: Russia using gas as a weapon in Central and Eastern Europe; Beijing growing closer with Moscow as it views Russia as a potential source of energy for its burgeoning economy and population; and Mohammed bin Salman’s push, in fits and starts, to become less reliant on that which resides below his country’s deserts.

Yergin pays scant little attention to Africa, Latin and South America, and South Asia, a surprising omission given the likely impact these regions will have on the ability of the world to tackle climate change. While there is a chapter on the divergent paths of Brazil and Mexico, it seems to be a separate essay tacked onto the broader piece, not a coherent part of the thesis.

The More Things Change

Yergin focuses on what he knows best—the energy markets and their interplay—and it shows. Where he is a bit short is in seeing around the bend. Who could have foreseen that an all-electric car made by an eccentric billionaire would become exceedingly common on the roads of Washington, Los Angeles, and New York City? Tesla’s rise to chic status symbol and its increasing accessibility for those outside of the upper tax brackets confounded most expectations and is driving a significant change in the automotive industry. The rise in efficiency in wind and solar power, its capture and storage, and its transmission amongst increasingly aging power grids is an equally fascinating development, one that could well contribute to the true “upending” Yergin suggests.

He plays a little fast and loose with the environmental movement and recent developments within the United States and other countries. Successive generations, Millennials and “Gen Z” in particular, are more apt to describe climate change as a global threat and perhaps more inclined to do something in response. What these generations demand from their politicians or do themselves will significant affect the future. The rise of state and local municipalities—along with private sector leaders—stepping in to effect environmental change in the absence of federal leadership is also worth noting. But in the context of his overall thesis, his approach is understandable.

He is right in asserting that traditional energy resources—oil and gas—their pursuit, distribution, and transportation will remain a key driver of international politics. Yes, the world has changed and is continuing to do so. Saudi Arabia sees the writing on the wall and is attempting to create a Silicon Valley in the desert. Oil and gas majors are reallocating resources away from traditional energy sources and towards alternative and renewable fuels. Your next car may well be a Tesla (the reviewer certainly hopes his is) or another all-electric or hybrid vehicle. Energy efficiency standards are rising and inefficient technologies are being driven to obsolescence. The Paris Climate Agreement held great promise, but its unenforceable nature and the continued rise of China and growth of India will challenge its targets and strain its efficacy (to say nothing of America’s withdrawal).

Yet, for all these positive developments, traditional energy politics reign supreme. China asserts its control over the South China Sea for not only territorial security, but also the energy and resources that lie beneath the waves. Beijing will do whatever necessary to ensure the survival of the Chinese Communist Party; economic growth is key to survival; and, economic growth requires energy. Russia is still using gas to assert control over Ukraine and bend Germany to its will via pipeline politics. If anything, that Riyadh and Moscow just waged a price war over oil production that saw futures drop to negative prices, reinforces this reality.

Energy politics have been, and will continue to be, about power politics.

Efficiency is Key

The New Map is an accessible overview of the recent history of energy politics, developments, and their implications. For those curious about how energy resources play into international relations and foreign policy at a strategic level, this is a good volume with which to start. Reading it, however, one is struck by the fact that this could have been half as long and just as good. The canned vignettes are interesting, but do not add a lot to the story. To be sure, there is value in depth and comprehensiveness, but there is value in brevity and concision, as well.

In reality, the map Yergin describes is less “new” than he posits. Politics remains politics, and unless there is a massive breakthrough technology—e.g. nuclear fusion, or exponential increases in energy efficiency or conductivity, or if there is a cataclysmic climate system shock—oil and gas will remain drivers of international politics for the foreseeable future. To be sure, the slow boil of climate change and the global response to it will affect the edges, but absent a new global accord, one that is enforceable in some form or fashion, access to traditional energy resources will drive and shape foreign policy. Energy, like geography, is destiny.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.