Oh my, where to start this? Yergin's 434-page text, with ten or so maps and excellent graphs, along with two significant inserts of photos is a treasure trove of information. Oh yes - add the combined notes, illustration credits and a full index of another 65 or so pages. This work is a keeper, almost impossibly crammed with both historical information as well as observations, questions and forecasts for the future. Frankly it's a bit hard to digest but impossible to put down. Thanks to my wonderful men's book club for the selection.
This review will be hopeless if I try and list details, since I made twenty pages of handwritten notes as I went through it, to try and emphasize the most important areas. Of course, if everything is important, then nothing stands out. So ... I will try in some manageable way to note some highlights in bullet form.
- The discovery of massive amounts of oil in USA shale deposits has been a surprise and total game changer. The USA, along with Russia and Saudi Arabia are the "Big Three" of oil now in that order.
- There are significant political notes and information regarding Russia's interference in the 2016 US Presidential election, along with efforts to divide NATO and create disarray in Europe. This is not favorable to candidate and President Trump.
- Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) is a major subject, with the USA, Qatar, Australia, and Russia noted as major exporters.
- A major theme is the "G2" emergence of the USA and China as competitors in the future ... both economically and increasingly militarily. Coalitions are being built.
- China is highlighted as the world's largest energy consumer, with 25% of the entire demand today. Most of this is based on fossil fuels with coal being the dominant fuel (60%) versus 11% in the USA.
- The South China Sea is a critical passageway for Chinese imports and exports and a potential friction-choke point as both Korea and Japan use that extensively for transportation of goods by sea.
- China's "Belt and Road" Initiative, to invest in countries in a way to ensure future economic and even political compatibility, is compared with the US's Marshall Plan after WW2 in Europe. Even with an eighty-year time frame offset, the amount is staggeringly different: seven times more money at $1.4 Trillion ($1,400 Billion)!
- The Middle East region is highlighted: the history of post WW1 nations carved out on a map, as well as the influence of Islam, especially the aggressive interpretation of Islam being both a Faith and also a method of governance. The two major divisions (and numerous minor ones as well): Sunni and Shia are covered along with the emergence of a militant and powerful Iran. Iraq is a complex country that was "created" post WW1, and which has numerous important religious and ethnic minorities and divisions.
- At present, a "Cold War" of sorts exists between Iran and Saudi-Arabia and extends outward to the Sunni and Shia adherents in numerous regional countries as well as Africa.
- The brutal Syrian Civil War has resulted in nearly half of the 22 million population displaced internally or having emigrated as refugees.
- The rise of smaller but extremely militant groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood is based on "etched in stone" tenets such as rejecting European dominance and modern culture in nearly all forms, post-WW1 borders, and the existence of Israel. The goal includes elimination of the present nation-states and creation of a "Caliphate," a strict religious state through a Holy War as Step One on the way to world domination of and by Islam. ISIS is one modern manifestation of this belief system.
- Oil and gas are a major theme of the book along with the fundamental Islamic belief systems and concomitent threat to modernity. Somewhat surprising to me is the statement that Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, albeit "heavier" and more expensive to produce and refine.
- The emergence of Electric Vehicles and forecast of the impact on gas/oil powered cars and trucks is covered in detail. The EV revolution is embraced nowhere more fervently than in China, where these vehicles would help reduce air pollution, improve energy security, and align with China's important position in Lithium batteries based on China's significant natural reserves of Lithium in the ground.
- An interesting historical summary of energy transitions in the world, from wood to coal to gas/oil to oil/natural gas is covered. Not much at all on nuclear energy is included.
- The emergence of Photo-Voltaic (PV) battery cells is included in detail, and China almost totally dominates (70%) the production of both the finished calls and the silicon P/N junction material (95%).
- The impact of solar is important, but they require sunlight, so battery backup and/or other forms of "no sunlight" energy are required. This is a complex problem, and the book seems to transition from nice on-paper solutions to a much more cautious and complex set of decisions and issues. China is building several new coal-fired power plants a year, as well as constructing *eight* new airports a year so conventional fossil-fuel sources are being added.
- Finally (whew!) to underscore how dependent the world is on automobiles and trucks, in 2018 there were 1.4 billion cars in use, with a negligeable number of EVs. In 2050 the current forecast is for 600 million EVs (a very good transition) but still with 1.4 billion gas/oil fueled vehicles, or no decrease at all in the number running on oil and gas for a WW total of 2.0 billion vehicles.
- With 42% of global energy required for electrical and heat, and 24% for industry, fully two-thirds of all CO2 generation seems more or less locked into place. Throw in the manufacture of plastics (remember the line from that Dustin Hoffman movie?), and it underscores how difficult it will be to divorce from fossil fuels.
Please accept my apology for such a detailed and lengthy book review. I suppose it could have been (perhaps should have been) changed to a super-condensed summary that it's good and that Yergin covers the political and economic confluence of energy with respect to the climate and economic clout of nations in our modern world. So now that you have reached the end of this review - hopefully a few made it to the end - thanks and I will conclude with the thought that the investment in time reading this work is worth it for sure.
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J.K. (Jim) George
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