Rethinking energy, climate and security: a critical analysis of energy security in the US

Abstract

Understanding the complicated relationship between energy, climate and security is vital both to the study of international relations and to ensure the continued survival of a world increasingly threatened by environmental change. Climate change is largely caused by burning fossil fuels for energy, but while discussions on the climate consider the role of energy, energy security debates largely overlook climate concerns. This article traces the separation between energy and climate through an analysis of US energy security discourse and policy. It shows that energy security is continually constructed as national security, which enables very particular policy choices and prioritises it above climate concerns. Thus, in many cases, policies undertaken in the name of energy security contribute directly to climate insecurity. The article argues that the failure to consider securing the climate as inherently linked to energy security is not just problematic, but, given global warming, potentially harmful. Consequently, any approach to dealing with climate change has to begin by rethinking energy security and security more broadly, as national (energy) security politics no longer provides security in any meaningful sense.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Some authors position themselves in the middle, combining approaches to promote a ‘comprehensive’ approach (Jaffe and Lewis 2002; Tunsjø 2010), but still subscribe to a traditional understanding of energy as national security.

  2. 2.

    The role of the relationship between discourse and practice in co-constituting energy security as a concept logically leads to an empirical section structuring the analysis around discourse and practice to understand the concept in the case study. There are, of course, many ways to structure such an analysis, as the wide range of securitisation scholarship illustrates. Moreover, by going beyond the discursive constructions to also consider practice, the article provides a deeper analysis and explanation of how the concept of energy security has been constructed through both discourse and practice in the United States and the implications that this has.

  3. 3.

    Aalto et al. provide an interesting discussion of how different actors frame energy security differently (2014), though such an approach would not work here as the focus is on the relationship between energy, climate and security rather than providing a survey of the energy security policy field in the US.

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Acknowledgements

The article was supported by the ESRC, research grant ES/I901825/1. Thanks to Adam Quinn, Rita Floyd, Michael Hulme, Simon Dalby, Liam Stanley and David Norman for providing comments and advice on an earlier draft of this article.

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Correspondence to Jonna Nyman.

Appendix

Appendix

List of interviews

Interview (2012a), ‘Interview 1, July 2012’.

Interview (2012b), ‘Interview 2, June 2012’.

Interview (2012c), ‘Interview 3, June 2012’.

Interview (2012d), ‘Interview 4, June 2012’.

Interview (2012e), ‘Interview 5, June 2012’.

List of interviewees

Note: Most of the interviewees requested that no quotes be attributed directly to them, but were happy to be listed separately as having been interviewed in an appendix. Thus, in the text, interviewees are quoted as ‘US government official’ and the list below presents an indication of the sources used in no particular order. Some interviewees requested full anonymity and so are not listed; this is an indication of interview sources rather than a complete list.

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Nyman, J. Rethinking energy, climate and security: a critical analysis of energy security in the US. J Int Relat Dev 21, 118–145 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2015.26

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Keywords

  • climate change
  • critical security studies
  • energy security
  • environmental security
  • United States