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Daniel Yergin’s sobering and smart take on the global state of energy

Daniel Yergin’s sobering and smart take on the global state of energy thumbnail

At a time when solid facts and reasoned arguments are in retreat, Daniel Yergin rides to the rescue. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and energy savant is armed to the teeth with enough telling statistics to sink an oil tanker in “The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations” (Penguin Press, 512 pp., ★★★★ out of four).

While most “experts” predicted a decade ago that peak oil production was imminent, to be followed by a slippery slope of declining supply, Yergin said they were wrong. As usual, he was right.

The big issue today is not supply, but demand. When will our voracious appetite peak for all that plentiful oil, gas and coal?

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

In his latest book, Yergin provides an engaging survey course on the lifeblood of modern civilization — where the world has been and where it is likely headed. By the final page, the reader will feel like an energy expert herself.

This book is worth reading for its marvelous statistics alone. Here’s a delicious morsel: Between 2011-2013, China poured more concrete than the United States did in the entire 20th century. Communists do love concrete.

Here are yet more telling stats: China is building eight new airports a year, is now the world’s largest energy consumer and derives 60% of its total energy from coal, the fossil fuel of the 19th century.

Such concerning numbers prepare the reader for Yergin’s contention that the transition from greenhouse gaseous fuels to alternatives like solar and wind power is not going to be quick or easy. According to the author, the world depends on coal, oil and gas for 80% of its energy today, much as it did 30 years ago, when concern about climate change was just beginning.

While Yergin studiously keeps partisanship out of his thesis, his skepticism is evident for miracle cures like the Green New Deal launched last year by Democrats. It calls for the United States to be powered 100% through renewable energy by 2030 (the eventual Congressional resolution moderated that aspiration a bit). He is dubious, too, about the European Union’s aim of being “Net Zero Carbon” by 2050.

It isn’t that he opposes such green initiatives, although he never states his position explicitly. He simply wants to inject some reality into the equation. He writes, “The overall objective — net zero carbon by 2050 — is a daunting ambition. How daunting is underscored by the estimate that, for Europe to achieve its target, per capita emissions will have to decline to the level of India, where per capita income is $2,000 a year, compared to Europe’s $38,000.”

Those stats are a buzzkill to environmental dreaming for sure.

Yergin does provide a menu of possible technical breakthroughs that could change the energy equation, such as the development of hydrogen as a clean fuel. He also ably documents the progress of the various green strides that are underway. But in his view, the world will be extracting large quantities of fossil fuels for decades to come — and perhaps going to war over them.

Author and energy expert Daniel Yergin.

China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea is not only about potential gas and oil deposits there, but also about safeguarding the delivery route for oil and gas imports that keep its economy humming. The recent chill in US-Sino relations and the move toward decoupling their economies heighten the risk of war breaking out on the high seas, the author points out.

If there is a complaint to be made about this thorough and valuable opus, it is that the reader yearns for Yergin to bust loose and pontificate. What would the smartest man in the room do in the face of the momentous challenge we, and our descendants, face?

David Holahan Special for USA TODAY



4 Comments on "Daniel Yergin’s sobering and smart take on the global state of energy"

  1. Peak Wind on Mon, 14th Sep 2020 10:50 am 

    Yawn.

  2. makati1 on Mon, 14th Sep 2020 10:42 pm 

    Jerkin’ is full of … (starts with “B”, is 8 letters, and ends in “T”.

  3. Abraham van Helsing on Tue, 15th Sep 2020 3:14 am 

    “This book is worth reading for its marvelous statistics alone. Here’s a delicious morsel: Between 2011-2013, China poured more concrete than the United States did in the entire 20th century. Communists do love concrete.“

    To add to that revealing statistic: the largest harbor of the entire Atlantic world (EU+US) is Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Global rank:NINE. The FIRST EIGHT are all in East-Asia.

    Unless you have stront in je ogen (shit in your eyes) you should realize that the days of western supremacy are thoroughly over. The best we can hope for is the creation of a Commonwealth of European nations, worldwide, with no place for George Soros (or Daniel Yergin) types.

    For the rest, Yergin is more or less right, there is no energy depletion problem. But while Yergin is worried about his stranded fossil assets due to lack of demand, the rest of the world carries on with the renewable energy transition. America is just lagging behind and stopped leading.

    “China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea is not only about potential gas and oil deposits there, but also about safeguarding the delivery route for oil and gas imports that keep its economy humming. The recent chill in US-Sino relations and the move toward decoupling their economies heighten the risk of war breaking out on the high seas, the author points out.”

    You bet! Btw, Anglo navies patrolling the SCS “containing agressive chinese behavior”, you can’t make this hypocritical stuff up. The anglo yapper trying to contain 1350 million IQ100 Chinese. Good luck with that!

    But Yergin is deluding himself and ignoring that his own tax farm is in very heavy weather, to the tune that in all earnest the US could be over by Christmas. THAT will trigger bold Chinese action in the SCS, erasing all US influence in East-Asia. Expect Down-Under to disappear in the hungry belly of the Red Dragon.

  4. Anonymouse on Tue, 15th Sep 2020 7:01 am 

    What else can we say mak. Jerkin in an obsequious, smarmy jew, or I guess we shorten that to just ‘a jew’. He is no more an ‘energy expert’ than the board lunatics like the exceptionaltuard and the other one, the idiot that thinks he is a white, European pseudo-natzi of some sort. What was his stupid name again, Abrahymie? I think that is what it calls itself these days. Well no matter.

    Jerkins real job, is not to ramble on about ‘energy’, in any real way, but to transmit a specific set of messages about the world as his masters see it. In jerkins world, uS energy wars, are not a ‘problem’. Resource depletion, is not a ‘problem’ either. The only thing jerkin here, sees as problematic, is when countries with a lot of energy to sell, decide to do so on their own terms. Or in currencies or markets not controlled by Tel Aviv or Jew York. When that happens, jerkin goes in full pontification mode. But when the uS is safely in charge of overseeing how the worlds energy is parceled out, and to whom, he just writes about technical minutiae of the oil business. And why not? To him, uS control of the worlds energy is the natural state of affairs. His job to put high-concept gloss on this control. Nothing more.

    The fact that he is spectacularly wrong in his predictions and analysis, and mis-characterizes almost everything he talks about, is a feature, not a bug for the jerkin.

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