How has energy use changed over time, particularly for the purposes of national economic growth or the use of military force?

Throughout history, energy has been necessary to both economic growth and military mobility. From the age of sail, to the one driven by coal, and now to our nuclear and oil era, militaries and large oil companies have sought secure energy supplies. As a result of energy’s importance to economic and military power, powerful, entrenched actors emerged, and their interests have often shaped the world’s energy system, whether they are navies and coal merchants of the past, or air forces and jet fuel refiners.

Much of this energy system shaping is taking place anew in the Arctic, as the polar ice cap and the Greenland ice sheet are both shrinking, exposing oil and natural gas resources to development. It is ironic that many of those actors responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are the same ones working toward uncovering energy resources due to climate change in the Arctic region. In light of these developments, actors as seemingly diverse as democratic Canada and autocratic Russia agree that these resources are valuable and should be developed. ExxonMobil and Russia’s Rosneft even began drilling in the Arctic and struck a substantial find in the Kara Sea before US sanctions on Russia forced ExxonMobil to halt, temporarily, its partnership with Rosneft in late 2014.

Using and citing some of the statistics on energy use from this module’s readings and notes (i.e., use and cite quantitative information), evaluate trends in energy use and the role of energy in geopolitical rivalry by answering the questions below.

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Respond to the following:

  • How has energy use changed over time, particularly for the purposes of national economic growth or the use of military force?
  • Choose one energy-related geopolitical event or moment of either conflict or cooperation (other than in the Arctic); how did concerns for energy affect the behavior of key political actors?
  • In your assessment, how is the Arctic faring compared to your other example and do you believe Arctic energy will lead to geopolitical peace more than national rivalry over the resources?


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