Geography of the Global Economy: Energy Systems in Transition

An required alternate subject for the energy minor emphasis, this class introduces students to basic concepts and methods of analysis used across the social sciences, with a special emphasis on the geography of energy resources, to understand how the production, distribution and consumption of energy are determined and experienced across global economic contexts. The readings, simulations, case studies and discussion materials illustrate and analyze both the choices and constraints regarding sources and uses of energy, introducing students to diverse frameworks, theories, and conceptual tools (e.g. geographic, economic, organizational and managerial, political, social, and cultural) for describing and explaining behavior at various levels of aggregation (e.g. individuals, households, firms, social movements, and governments). As a survey of social science perspectives and analytic tools, the course is intended to prepare you to be conversant with the use the tools of the social sciences to understand and shape real energy decisions, markets, and policies.

Our geographical lens is the global economy and the position of energy within it. Our empirical focus is three nations: China, Russia, and the US, whose energy futures are inextricably linked. Rapidly urbanizing , China is the world’s largest consumer of energy resources and also is the largest emitter of CO2 emissions. Dependent on high sulphur coal, China’s energy and electrical generation system are polluting the air and water of the nation. In response, Chinese citizens are taking to the streets to protest the toxicity of their energy system. Shifts in energy source is not only required, but failure to act could lead to social unrest, a prospect gravely feared by the Chinese central government. But energy development is not all to blame for rising rates of pollution. Rapid growth is fueling the increase in demand not only for energy, but goods and services, which accompany the march toward an urban society. Enter Russia. Russia’s natural gas industry is the second largest in the world and this resource is a critical component of the nation’s GDP. Natural gas is cleaner and results in less CO2 emissions. At present, despite sharing a border, energy trading between Russia and China is limited. Enter the US. The ability to exploit unconventional gas reserves through the development of new drilling techniques is adding new gas supplies which in turn are placing downward pressure on global gas prices. As new supplies of gas become available, formerly secure supply contracts and markets are up for grabs and renegotiations as increasingly common. Given Russia’s dependence on natural gas revenues, stable prices are important to the performance of Russia’s centrally planned economy. This condition is increasingly allusive given nations like the US are being drawn into the natural gas export business, which is destabilizing old relations. What is Russia to do? While politics and culture now find Russia and China far apart, the two countries have much to gain from trade. In the absence of trade, China has a few options including pursuit of a non-fossil-fuel based energy footprint. This prospect responds to one element of China’s energy challenge, but it ignores the demand for goods and services accompanying the compositional change in the nation’s standard of living. Thus the study of Russia and China is timely and important. We will use the a sophisticated geographic data system to explore the relationship between China’s development path, its resource base, its energy generation, distribution and consumption system to speculate on the gains to be had by Russia to serve the Chinese market and the institutional, physical and political challenges confronting this goal.