Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Geopolitics of Carbon

Menzie Chinn has a useful post today on the impacts of US sanctions on Russia.  He notes in passing that “oil conservation measures in the US would have an impact” on global oil prices and the Russian economy.  This points to a consideration that is often overlooked.

Serious measures to combat climate change—to drastically reduce the extraction of fossil fuels—would be a blow to all petrostates.  This includes not only Russia, but Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, and so on.  That’s a mixed bag, but given the tendency for hydrocarbons to foster corruption and authoritarianism, it’s mostly a good thing.  The main drawback I can see is that oil wealth has created political economic space for challenges to the power centers of North America and Europe.  These challenges are not always progressive and reasonable, but they have served to decentralize geopolitical influence somewhat over the past four decades.

Meanwhile, those who campaign for a serious response to the carbon crisis should realize that their opposition includes not only the fossil fuel sector but the states that sit on top of the major deposits.  Thought should be given to a strategy that challenges these states but does not simply rely on the hegemony of the US and its European allies to crush them.  (Not that there is any great push currently coming out of Washington, Brussels, London or other such places to impose carbon restrictions on the petro-potentates, but it’s the principle of the thing.)

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