Renewable energy is energy generated from natural, sustainable sources such as wind and solar. Harvesting renewable energies does not deplete resources and the environmental impacts are minimal. In fact, in many instances the only environmental cost is that of constructing the infrastructure needed to harvest, store, and transmit the resultant energy.
As the effects of anthropologic climate change (that is, climate change caused by human activity) start to manifest, renewable energies are at the forefront of most geopolitical discourse. There is no escaping the simple fact that our civilization requires power in order to function. Power is not just electronics and television either; our lighting when it’s dark, our hospital equipment, and the call centers that process 911 calls; all of these require constant power.
Currently a number of countries around the world are dependent upon importing energy from other nations in order to meet their requirements. In some instances, this creates an uneasy tension. For example, Russia supplies much of the rest of Europe with energy from its vast natural gas resources and thus is in a position to cause serious trouble for the rest of the continent. This is a concern for most of Europe, which historically has had mixed relations with Russia. Some former Soviet territories are particularly concerned by this state of affairs and have tried to achieve energy independence.
International relations are more finely tuned than ever to the energy market. The unstoppable march of climate change is bringing with it a growing awareness that in the not so distant future we could conceivably find ourselves having trouble generating enough energy around the world.
Some studies suggest that if global warming continues at its current rate then within 50 years parts of Arabia and the Middle East will experience prolonged bouts of life threatening heat. These regions are important for energy and oil resources, not only that but there are also concerns about the impact that semi-regular environmental disasters in the form of extreme heat waves could have on regional stability.
One of the issues set to dominate the progression of international relations for years to come is that of how individual nations and the international community as a whole respond to the challenges posed by climate change. In April 2016, the overwhelming majority of nations signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which committed them to ambitious goals aimed at keeping the global temperature increase from the industrial revolution until the end of the century below two degrees centigrade.
Moving Towards Energy Independence
Geopolitics throughout the 20th century was largely shaped by energy considerations and geopolitics was responsible for the most dramatic swings in the price of crude oil. Even today, we see oil prices being lowered by traditional producers in an attempt to curtail the United States’ ever-increasing market share. Today, it seems that the balance of power in international relations favors countries that are investing in clean, renewable energy sources and many analysts predict that this trend will only increase as time goes on.
Currently, a lot of developed nations are dependent on others to import the necessary fossil fuels to meet their energy requirements. However, as energy technology improves, we are rapidly approaching a world where nations can take energy independence for granted. Energy independence, when a country requires no outside help in order to generate enough energy to satisfy demand, has tremendous benefits for any countries that can achieve it. However, the wider implications on the geopolitical landscape are hard to predict.
In Eastern and central Europe, there are growing anxieties about the amount of influence Russia wields owing to its monopoly on the supply of natural gas to the European continent. Consequently, there is a concerted effort throughout the EU to develop more efficient renewable energy technologies that will allow states lacking in natural resources to generate their energy needs from solar, wind, hydroelectric, or other natural sources.
Shifts in Economic Power
Some of the effects of renewable energy generation, while broadly beneficial and successful at combating global warming, are unpredictable in their consequences. For example, the Russian economy is heavily dependent on its ability to export large amounts of natural gas to markets across Europe. If this was no longer a viable source of income, Russia would have to look elsewhere and that could potentially be destabilizing. Such considerations are the domain of political science. Those who are interested in the subject might want to consider studying an online masters in political science. George Washington University is one of the many renowned universities offering online political science masters degrees.
Shifting Regional Power
If nation states who are currently economically and or politically beholden to their bigger neighbors because of energy needs achieve the energy independence they want, it could have a drastic effect on regional balances of power. While we can look at current trends in renewable energy generation and extrapolate from them how much progress countries are likely to make in the near future, we can’t predict what innovations might come along that offer new ways of harvesting energy or what efficiency gains will become possible. Responding rapidly and proportionately to localized shifts in power will require cooperation between the world’s nations and will likely feature heavily in geopolitics.
Encouraging Scientific Innovation
Renewable energies are not only competing against traditional fossil fuel sources, they are also competing against one another. This competition is proving healthy as across the globe, various nation states and private corporations continue to produce important new research and technological breakthroughs, which are moving the world ever closer to reliable, scalable, renewable energy generation.
There is something of a race on among Western nations to develop nuclear fusion technology. Nuclear fusion is the process by which stars generate their energy, and if we can replicate it on Earth, we will be able to generate as much clean energy as we desire.
Global warming is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Renewable energies represent one of the best defenses we have against the disastrous effects of climate change.