The energy transition

Sergio Sister, 1970, ecoline and crayon on paper, pencil and felt-tip pen, 51 x 73


The United States, Russia, China, India itself and the other intermediary powers of the world system all work with the same horizon of 2050/60, when they program the “energy transition” of their structures and military platforms

“With an average daily consumption of more than 300 thousand barrels, the Department of Defense appears as the largest annual consumer of oil in the United States, which has caused growing concern about the energy vulnerability of its military forces, intensified by a diplomatic posture and aggressive geopolitics by China regarding access to oil resources”
(Barreiros, D. Projections on the Future of War: Disruptive Technologies and Paradigm Changes (2020-2060)

At the start of World War I, the horse was still a central element in the military planning of the great powers, and coal powered the world's machines, trains and steamships. But four years later, at the end of the war, there had been an “energy revolution” that changed the face of capitalism, and oil redesigned the world's geoeconomics and geopolitics. Soon after the conflict, the geometric growth of the automobile industry played a fundamental role in the worldwide diffusion of the combustion engine and gasoline.

There is no doubt that it was the war that accelerated the process of this second great “energy transition” in the history of industrial capitalism. This passed after the war, but the “energy transition” from coal to oil played a decisive role in the very outcome of the war. The great change began with the British Navy, in 1911, but after the first step, all the other powers involved in the conflict adhered to the new energy matrix of oil and its immediate military use in the creation of new war tanks, and in the development of military aviation. And during the war, due to the importance of the new energy source, all governments ended up creating specific structures and agencies for articulation between the State, its strategic command, and the large private oil companies, to coordinate the production and distribution of oil, abroad. of the market and in obedience to the war strategies of each of these countries. A few days after the signing of the armistice, on 1o On November 1918, XNUMX, the British government hosted a meeting of the Inter-Allied Petroleum Conference, created during the war, and on that occasion Lord Curzon commemorated the victory of the Allies by declaring loud and clear, that “the Allied cause has floated to victory over a oil wave.[I]

At the beginning of the First War, the United States controlled 65% of the world's production of "black gold", and during the conflict the North Americans supplied 80% of the oil consumed by the allied countries. For this reason, after the war, the North Americans automatically assumed leadership of the world's new energy matrix, and became the world's largest oil producers and exporters until the end of World War II. The Caucasus region had temporarily lost importance after the war and the Soviet revolution, and oil exploration in the Middle East was still in its infancy after France and England signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, which it was later confirmed by the San Remo Agreement of 1920, dividing the territory of the former Ottoman Empire among themselves, which would become the epicenter of the energy dispute between the great powers in the second half of the XNUMXth century.

A century later, already in the third decade of the 75st century, the world is going through a cyclopean geopolitical transformation, and at the same time it is proposing to carry out a new “energy transition”, which substitutes fossil fuels for new energy sources that are “ clean and renewable”. The Second World War ended 30 years ago, and the Cold War ended XNUMX years ago, but today it is common to speak of a “third world war”, or a “new cold war”, despite the fact that the great powers are not involved with each other. in a direct and explicit war.

In fact, what is in full swing is a gigantic global geopolitical mutation, caused by the universalization of the capitalist interstate system, by the vertiginous rise of China and India, and by the return of Russia to the condition of a global military power. All this concomitantly with the decline in economic participation and military power of the richest and most industrialized western powers of the XNUMXth century, especially in the case of Europe, more than the United States. And despite these major transformations, it is unlikely that there will be a major “hegemonic war” between the US and China, or even between the US and Russia, in the coming decades. The territory and armament of these countries are gigantic, they jointly control about a quarter of the world's territorial surface, and more than a third of the global population, and they no longer admit invasions or conquests of the classic type. Therefore, its struggle must move to the peripheral territories of the system and to the borderless spaces and flows through which the resources and energy of the interstate capitalist system circulate, where it must take the form of an almost permanent “hybrid war”, fought at several points simultaneously, with sudden and unexpected changes of scenery, and with increasingly unstable alliances, as if everyone were going to reproduce in the future, and on a planetary scale, what was the past history of the formation of Europe itself.

In any case, this subterranean and continuous competition between the “three giants” should promote one of the most spectacular technological leaps in all of History. And once again, as has always happened over the years, this technological leap must be led by research and innovation in the war industry, involving a change in the energy matrix that currently drives the military infrastructure of these countries, and around the world. It will not be a war, but a long “preparation for war”, a war that may never explicitly take place, but that will be being fought covertly, on all planes, on land, at sea, in the air, in the underwater world and in outer space. It will very likely be one of those moments when humanity will be crossing one of the “frontiers” that some analysts call the “singularity point”. Ray Kurtzweil,[ii] for example, it “predicts that the growth of technological capability involving computers, robotics and biotechnology will reach a point “tendency to infinity”, between 2029 and 2045, which would mean that artificial intelligences would have surpassed the capabilities of all humans combined; from then on, human biology and the machine would form part of the same complex, without it being possible to distinguish where one begins and the other ends”.[iii]

Today, from an energy point of view, when looking at the strategic planning of the great powers that are located at the epicenter of global geopolitical competition, what is observed is not an immediate concern with the exhaustion of fossil resources, but with the growing costs of actions to ensure access by each one of them to their reserves scattered around the world. The Strategic High Command of these countries still foresees the priority use of fossil energy in its various military platforms, at least until 2050, but all work with the same objective of substituting carbonic energy for a new matrix that is progressively built, and that includes each wind, solar, tidal and biofuel energy, also making use of still underutilized sources of hydrocarbons, such as bituminous sands and methane hydrate. In addition, all these countries, along with others with lesser military pretensions, have been making efforts to develop electricity produced on the battlefield itself, as a result of the requirements imposed by the new electronic systems that are being used more and more in military operations. military equipment with laser, chemical-biological sensors and exoskeletons. Several authors even suggest that in the coming decades, from the military point of view, “the very conception of energy generation will move away reasonably from the 'collector' model” of the fossil-dependent economy in which the geography of resources is given by nature , in towards a 'farmer' model, in which energy is effectively generated from beginning to end in spaces predetermined by each one's strategies. At the limit of the 'planted energy harvest' would be portable and personal microgenerators, capable of guaranteeing operational autonomy to a soldier with his equipment”.[iv]

The United States, Russia, China, India itself and the other intermediary powers of the world system are all working with the same horizon of 2050/60, when they program the “energy transition” of their structures and military platforms, with a view to building of a new paradigm "fossil-free”. Even so, today it is already possible to identify the presence of this new paradigm of the future, in the current development of some “cutting-edge” military technologies used in some weapons that are already in an embryonic phase, or, in some cases, in full experimental use in the Middle East oil disputes. Included in this category are three types of technologies that interact with each other, and which are already being used in an increasingly deadly way, as is the case of “drones”, “swarms” and “artificial intelligence” for military use. Three technologies that are part of a broader process of “dronification of war”, using armed, land, air and naval vehicles, operated remotely, with self-pilot and tactical capacity to make autonomous decisions during the execution of some altered objective in middle of the battle.

Part of this armament, especially the larger ones, still uses fuel from conventional aviation. But the intention of its projectors is that in the medium term horizon they will start using the same energy as smaller drones, which are electric, or which use a hybrid matrix, involving a variable combination of hydrogen and electricity. The potential of these new weapons is geometrically multiplied in what specialists call “swarms” – literally situated on the last technological frontier of XNUMXth century warfare – which are, in practice, veritable “collective drones” that operate in a network exchanging information between themselves, under the command of equipment endowed with “artificial intelligence” that reduce human intervention to the indispensable minimum in defining the most general objectives of the war itself, and of each of its combats.

From the point of view of the “energy transition” that is currently being debated around the world, the most important thing is to be clear that the military strategists of the great powers are predicting that between 2020 and 2050/60, all these new weapons and military platforms are already framed in the new energy matrix – “clean and renewable” – which will be born, in this case, from the military competition between the few great powers that will compete for global power, during the XNUMXst century, within a system that will certainly be , increasingly hierarchical, asymmetrical and imperial.

*Jose Luis Fiori He is a professor at the Institute of Economics at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of the american power (Voices).


[I] Ergin, D. Oil: a story of conquests, power and money. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 2009, p. 205.

[ii] Kurtzweil, R. The singularity is near. New York: Viking Books, 2005.

[iii] Barreiros, 2019, p. 14.

[iv] Barreiros, 2019, p. 9.

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