17 October 2017   2 comments

On this day in 1973, there was a seismic shift in American power in the world.  For most of the 20th century, the US had dominated the global economy because its supplies of, and its technical expertise, in the extraction and use of petroleum.  Indeed, in many respects, petroleum was the fundamental underpinning of US hegemony.  But in 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an oil embargo against the US and other states who had supported Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Egypt and other Arab states.  The reaction in the US was panic among consumers, but the broader signal was that the US no longer could control the commodity that essentially fueled the global economy.  Moreover, the dominant industry in the US–the automotive industry–began to see major international competition leading to the entry of Japanese cars.  That shift began to reshuffle the power of labor in the US economy as unions began to see a dramatic decline in membership, a decline that was amplified by President Reagan’s challenge to the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) in the 1980s.  Since that time there has been a shift away from fossil fuels for economic and environmental reasons.  The shift is far from complete, but control of alternative energies is likely the key to the country that ultimately will serve as global hegemon.

Lines for Gasoline, October 1973


We continue to wonder about the relationship between weather-related events in the world and climate change.  One of the more recent questions is the extent to which climate change may have contributed to the horrific wild fires in California.  There is little question that the destructiveness of wild fires has more to do with how humans use the land, but the broader question is whether climate change contributes to the conditions which aggravate the pattern of land use.  It will be years before we have any close to a substantive answer to the question, but there are some intriguing aspects of climate change which undoubtedly plays a role.  For example, spring seems to be arriving earlier in many parts of the year which means that there are longer periods of possible drying out of forests and plains.  According to Scientific American:

“Last year, an analysis released by the USA-National Phenology Network pointed out that spring had arrived up to three weeks early throughout the southeastern United States. Another study in Ecosphere from last year concluded that three-quarters of the nation’s national parks have seen an advance in the timing of spring over the last century. Other recent research from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has suggested that spring is coming about eight days earlier in the northern forests of North America and Eurasia than it did three decades ago.”

Earlier springs mean warmer temperatures, fewer opportunities for snowfall, and earlier times for snow melt.  We shall see if this pattern continues.


China will convene its 19th Communist Party Conference on 18 October.  We suspect that the Conference will focus mostly on domestic policy and we will be especially interested in whether the role of President Xi will change substantially.  But foreign policy will also be an important topic.  Michael Swaine has written an excellent view of the questions that will be explored at the conference for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  For those who are interested in how China views its future in East Asia and the world, Swaine’s summary provides a comprehensive overview.   His conclusion is sober but not threatening:

“However, such realities do not preclude the possibility of greater tensions between China and the United States, its allies, and other Asian states over trade, investment, sovereignty rights, and a variety of activities involving Chinese and U.S. or Japanese military forces in the Western Pacific. There is no doubt that Xi and the Chinese leadership are seeking to more effectively use China’s growing international presence and influence to promote the nation’s interests in such sensitive areas. As a result, tensions with China will in fact likely increase, despite the many positive elements of the 19th Party Congress noted above.”

Posted October 17, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

2 responses to “17 October 2017

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  1. In the Oct 15th post, you mentioned that “something happened” in the 1970’s to start a decline in workers being paid in line with their productivity. Could this OPEC embargo and resulting weakening of labor union power be at least part of the something?


    • It was part of the process–the embargo weakened one of America’s most important unions, the United Auto Workers (UAW), because of Americans shifting to more fuel efficient cars from Japan.


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