Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine didn’t just knock a major climate report out of the news cycle, it sparked a major new disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry and its defenders. 

In its new Energy Independence promo, the American Petroleum Institute warns against “import[ing] energy from unstable regions” and “depend[ing] on foreign governments for our natural gas and oil” – a message echoed by a conservative blog claiming President Biden “single-handedly [brought] US energy independence to a screeching halt.” An editorial in the conservative Washington Examiner scolds, “Yes, Biden’s climate policies empowered Putin.” And earlier this month, fossil fuel flacking U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) were sneering about “climate elites” and climate idolaters.

Climate activists and communicators were initially slow to respond. But when they did, they reversed the charges, arguing it is the addiction to fossil fuels that weakened the U.S. and the West. New investments in oil and gas, others added, will do nothing to affect the outcome of the current conflict: They will only become stranded assets when, their logic follows, fossil fuels inevitably are outcompeted by renewable energy.

The volleys continue. 

To provide more context for this latest twist in the public debate over climate change, this bookshelf features recently published titles that explore interconnections of climate change, conflict, and oil. (Of the 12 titles listed, 11 were published or updated after 2020.) 

The final takeaway? In any combination, climate, conflict, and oil become more volatile.  

As always with this feature, the brief descriptions of the titles are drawn from copy provided by the publishers. When two dates of publication are listed, the second is for the release of the paperback edition.


All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, by Michael T. Klare (Macmillan/Picador Books 2019/2020, 304 pages, $18.00 paperback)

The military now regards climate change as one of the top threats to American national security – and is busy developing strategies to cope with it. Drawing on previously obscure reports and government documents, renowned security expert Michael T. Klare shows that the U.S. military sees the climate threat as imperiling the country on several fronts at once. Droughts and food shortages are stoking conflicts in ethnically divided nations. The melting Arctic is creating new seaways to defend. And rising seas threaten American cities and military bases. While others still debate the causes of global warming, the Pentagon is intensely focused on its effects. Its response makes it clear that the immense impact of climate change is not in doubt.

The Origins of the Syrian Conflict: Climate Change and Human Security, by Marwa Daoudy (Cambridge University Press 2020, 264 pages, $29.99 paperback)

Did climate change cause the Syrian uprising? Some policymakers and academics have made this claim. This study presents a new conceptual framework to evaluate it. Contributing to scholarship in the fields of critical, environmental security, and human security, Marwa Daoudy prioritizes non-Western perspectives to make sense of Syria’s place in this international debate. Designing an innovative multidisciplinary framework, Daoudy uses extensive field research and her own personal background as a Syrian scholar to present interviews with Syrian government officials and citizens, as well as the research of Syrian experts, to provide a unique insight into Syria’s environmental, economic and social vulnerabilities leading up to the 2011 uprising.

Unstable Ground: Climate Change, Conflict, and Genocide, Updated Edition, by Alex Alvarez (Rowman and Littlefield 2017/2021, 232 pages, $27.00 paperback) 

Unstable Ground looks at the human impact of climate change and its potential to provoke some of the most troubling crimes against humanity – ethnic conflict, war, and genocide. After providing an overview of climate science, Alex Alvarez examines how our warming world will challenge and stress societies and heighten the risk of mass violence. Drawing on a number of recent and historic examples, including Darfur, Syria, and the current migration crisis, his book illustrates the thorny intersections of climate change and violence. Research shows that climate change will continue and accelerate; understanding how it might contribute to violence is essential in understanding how to prevent it. 

The Power of Deserts: Climate Change, the Middle East, and the Promise of a Post-Oil Era, by Dan Rabinowitz (Stanford University Press 2020, 184 pages, $14.00 paperback) 

The Middle East could soon see climate change exacerbate food and water shortages, aggravate social inequalities, and drive displacement and political destabilization. And as renewable energy eclipses fossil fuels, oil rich countries in the Middle East will see their wealth diminish. Alternatively, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or the UAE might harness the region’s immense potential for solar energy and emerge as vanguards of global climate action. The Power of Deserts highlights this potentially brighter future – evidenced by a recent shift across the Middle East toward renewable energy. With his deep knowledge of the region, Dan Rabinowitz makes a sober yet surprisingly optimistic investigation of opportunity arising from a looming crisis.

Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, by Thane Gustafson (Harvard University Press 2021, 336 pages, $39.95) 

No major power is more economically dependent on the export of hydrocarbons than Russia. But the decline of fossil fuel use is already underway, and restrictions on hydrocarbons will only tighten, cutting fuel prices and slashing Russia’s export revenues. Yet Russia has no substitutes. The country is unprepared for the worldwide transition to renewable energy, as Russian leaders continue to invest the national wealth in oil and gas while dismissing the promise of post-carbon technologies. Nor has the state made efforts to offset the direct damage that climate change will do inside the country. Lucid and thought-provoking, Klimat shows how climate change is poised to alter the global order, potentially toppling even great powers from their perches.

Planetary Specters: Race, Migration, and Climate Change in the Twenty-First Century, by Neel Ajuha (University of North Carolina Press 2021, 224 pages, $27.95 paperback) 

To understand the systemic reasons for displacement and migration, Neel Ahuja argues, it is necessary to reframe climate disaster as interlinked with the history of capitalism and the global politics of race. Drawing on theories of racial capitalism, Ahuja considers how the oil industry transformed the economic and geopolitical processes that lead to displacement. Ahuja also studies how Asian trade, finance, and labor connections have changed the nature of race, borders, warfare, and capitalism since the 1970s. Ultimately, Ahuja argues that only by reckoning with how climate change emerges out of longer histories of race, colonialism, and capitalism can we begin to build a sustainable and just future for those most affected by environmental change.

Energy Without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity, by David McDermott Hughes (Duke University Press 2017, 208 pages, $24.95 paperback) 

In Energy without Conscience David McDermott Hughes investigates why climate change has yet to be seen as a moral issue. He examines the forces that render the use of fossil fuels ordinary and therefore exempt from ethical evaluation. He draws parallels between the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century slave labor energy economy and the contemporary oil industry. Hughes shows how both forms of energy rely upon a complicity that absolves producers and consumers from acknowledging the immoral nature of each. Only by rejecting arguments that oil is economically, politically, and technologically necessary, and by acknowledging our complicity in an immoral system, can we stem the damage being done to the planet.

The Oil Wars Myths: Petroleum and the Causes of International Conflict, by Emily Meierding (Cornell University Press 2020, 256 pages, $39.95)  

Challenging conventional wisdom, The Oil Wars Myth argues that countries do not launch major conflicts to acquire petroleum resources. Meierding notes that the costs of foreign invasion, territorial occupation, international retaliation, and damage to oil company relations deter even the most powerful countries from initiating “classic oil wars.” Examining a century of interstate violence, she shows that countries have only engaged in mild sparring to advance their petroleum ambitions. Meierding then explains why oil war assumptions are so common. Since conceptions of oil wars combine need and greed – two popular explanations for resource grabs – they are easy to believe in. The Oil Wars Myth will engage anyone interested in oil, war, and the narratives that connect them.

Carbon Criminals, Climate Crimes, by Ronald Kramer (Rutgers University Press 2020, 300 pages, $32.95 paperback)

Carbon Criminals, Climate Crimes analyzes the looming threats posed by climate change from a criminological perspective. It first explains what corporations in the fossil fuel industry did, or failed to do, in relation to global warming. Then it integrates research and theory from a variety of disciplines to analyze four specific state-corporate climate crimes: continued extraction of fossil fuels and rising carbon emissions; political failure in mitigating these emissions; socially organized climate change denial; and climate crimes of empire, which include militaristic forms of adaptation to climate disruption. The final chapter reviews policies that could mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to a warming world, and achieve climate justice.

The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations, by Daniel Yergin (Penguin Random House 2020/2021, 512 pages, $18.95 paperback, with a new epilogue) 

The world is being shaken by the collision of energy, climate change, and the clashing power of nations in a time of global crisis. The “shale revolution” in oil and gas – made possible by fracking technology, but not without controversy – has transformed the American economy, ending the “era of shortage.” Yet concern about energy’s role in climate change is challenging our economy and way of life, accelerating a second energy revolution in the search for a low carbon future. All of this has been made starker and more urgent by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic dark age that it has wrought. A master storyteller and global energy expert, Daniel Yergin takes the reader on a riveting journey across the world’s new map. He poses the great questions of this era of political turbulence and points to the challenges that lie ahead.

No Standard Oil: Managing Abundant Petroleum in a Warming World, by Deborah Gordon (Oxford University Press 2021, 368 pages, $39.95) 

In No Standard Oil, Deborah Gordon shows that no two oils or gases are environmentally alike. Each has a distinct, quantifiable climate impact. While all pollute, some are much worse for the climate than others. In accessible language, Gordon explains the results of the Oil Climate Index Plus Gas, an open source model that estimates global oil and gas emissions. Gordon identifies the oils and gases that are the most harmful to the planet, and proposes innovative solutions to reduce their climate footprints. Climate stabilization cannot wait for oil and gas to run out. No Standard Oil shows how we can take practical steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector while making sustainable progress in transitioning to a carbon-free future.

Grand Transitions: How the Modern World Was Made, by Vaclav Smil (Oxford University Press 2021, 384 pages, $34.95) 

What makes the modern world work? The answer to this deceptively simple question lies in four “grand transitions” of civilization: population, agriculture, energy, and economics. Vaclav Smil investigates the complex interactions of these transitions. He argues that the moral imperative to share modernity’s benefits has become more acute with increasing economic inequality, but addressing this imbalance would make it difficult to make the changes necessary for the long-term preservation of the environment. Thus, managing the fifth transition – the environmental changes that result from natural-resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and global warming – will determine the success or failure of the grand transitions that made the world we live in today.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary...