Geopolitics and the energy transition

From today’s big read in the FT:

But is the geopolitics of energy really about energy?

To link geopolitics and conflict to a particular material thing is to miss the point a little. There is not a fixed set of objects we fight over, such that the sudden super-abundance of one reduces conflict as a whole. Humans have fought wars over salt and spices, cotton and coal. Better shipping routes to the spice islands, or alternatives to coal did not eliminate conflict so much as displace it elsewhere. Tensions arise over the valuable, the scarce, the unevenly distributed (and much else). A geopolitics of carrots is possible should they meet those conditions.

Instead we should be asking, what things and places meets those conditions in a world where energy is super-abundant. What do societies with an abundance of energy make, do, and look like? What will they care about, be willing to risk lives and treasure for? One thing missing from the article is services. Geopolitical thinking is still deeply attached to the material world, but we need to understand how increasingly digital (dematerialised?) and service driven societies change traditional geopolitics (if at all)?

The article outlines some of the new(ish) commodities that will power the renewable revolution, like cobalt and copper. This in turn will shift the geography of geopolitics, perhaps the corridors of electricity transmission will replace the sea-lanes transporting oil (and perhaps I was overhasty in criticizing those who think Eurasia is the future of geopolitics).

Well worth reading!


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Africa and the future of geopolitics

We live in an age where geopolitics is again an everyday issue. Even in quiet Australia, we’re grappling with the consequences of great power politics thanks to our own trade war with China. While the main stars – China, the US, the EU – are familiar, the global cast is actually far larger.

Adam Tooze’s latest newsletter introduces us to some of the future geopolitical players in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular Nigeria. If like me, your understanding of Africa is limited, I highly recommend reading it.

If I had one gripe, its with the ‘demographic determinism’ that lurks here. African countries will experience the bulk of population growth this century, so the argument goes, giving them more geopolitical significance.

It seems reasonable that three or four hundred million people create a concomitant kind of economic and political heft, but it also seems plausible they act as anchors – at least in the medium term. We need to interrogate how exactly rapid population growth translates one into a geopolitical power (or prey).

Do check it out.