Energy Transitions in Developed, Fossil Fuel-Poor Countries

Student name: Sam Kumasaka
Contact email: Available to logged-in users only
Advisor: Elizabeth Safran
Updated: October 27, 2014

Natural Disasters
Natural Resource Extraction


Energy is “critical to a state’s security” (Cornell 2009): while this statement has always been the case at the most basic, even obtuse, level of military might (e.g. the old adage, “An army marches on its stomach.”), national security currently takes into consideration a wide range of concerns. These include...

Concentration Summary

Energy is “critical to a state’s security” (Cornell 2009): while this statement has always been the case at the most basic, even obtuse, level of military might (e.g. the old adage, “An army marches on its stomach.”), national security currently takes into consideration a wide range of concerns. These include the economic and political power a country wields in order to preserve and maintain itself. Increasingly, the growth of globalized economies in countries across the world hinges on their ability to secure “cheap, abundant energy” (Wesley 2007). As the distribution of energy resources between geographic areas differs vastly, certain countries are left more susceptible to unreliable energy sourcing than others. Energy security in a nation is traditionally linked to the availability of fossil fuels in the geographic area they exert significant influence over: for instance, countries with fewer oil reserves must find ways to secure sources for themselves. The International Energy Agency argues that while the “environmental benefits of renewable energy are well known… the contribution that they can make to energy security is less widely recognized” (Olz et al 2007). This agency points out that in areas like electricity generation and transportation, renewable sources — which countries can often produce domestically– are easier to protect, distribute, and rebuild. Domestic systems based on alternative energy sources also tend to be more flexible and “resistant to central shocks,” as those sources are generally more diverse (Olz et al 2007). Globally, industrialization is putting increasing pressure on oil reserves, which grow harder to access and more vulnerable to disruption as they dwindle (Asif 2007). My concentration will examine broad shifts in energy policies and attitudes which prioritize areas like security, public health, and fiscal benefit in developed, post-industrial nations with few domestic fossil fuel resources. In 2012, the International Energy Agency found that the most highly-developed countries tend to have the highest rates of energy consumption (IEA 2012). I will compare changes in institutional priorities, like legislative policies created in response to detrimental energy incidents, with private sector spending and risk perception.

My concentration primarily addresses the themes of energy and resource extraction, as Environmental Studies concerns itself with the externalities of energy systems. Countries frequently undertake transitions towards or away from alternative sources based on the results of natural disasters and other stimuli which threaten a consistent supply of energy. An example of these principles as they relate to my concentration is the 2011 Fukushima Prefecture incident in Japan. Japan has very few utilizable fossil fuel resources, and is thus highly dependent on investments in foreign oil or domestic renewable sources. In the past three years, the Fukushima Prefecture nuclear plant meltdown has considerably shifted, or pressured reexamination of, attitudes in Japan and the world at large towards nuclear power. The prefecture is also currently constructing what is set to become the world’s largest offshore wind turbine farm. The costs of procuring and efficiently utilizing various forms of energy while minimizing risks to national security is clearly an issue of contention and critical economic importance in Japan, as it is for many countries which seek a greater degree of energy independence. Thereby, happenings in Fukushima Prefecture seem not only representative of changes taking place in Japan, but provide an interesting opportunity to study major energy transitions towards and away from imported oil, nuclear, and other non-fossil fuel energy sources which are taking place across the globe.

Different nations take differing approaches to fulfilling their own energy needs. I would also like to situate my concentration in a nation like Germany, which has recently undertaken a major transition away from nuclear energy towards total reliance on solar, wind. The decision to phase out Germany’s nuclear fission plants, which occurred in response to the Fukushima incident, began as an anti-nuclear popular movement and created a “political opportunity” transition (Blackmore 2013). In contrast, over three-quarters of the electricity produced in France comes from nuclear sources; their national nuclear energy program has led to economic success as the world’s largest net exporter of energy, their proclaimed ‘energy independence,’ and enduring popular support. Additionally, France has one of three countries in the world with an active nuclear reprocessing program. Despite their geographic similarity and proximity, the two European Union members have taken vastly different energy policy approaches.


Asif, M., and T. Muneer. 2007. “Energy Supply, Its Demand and Security Issues for Developed and Emerging Economies.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 11 (7) (September): 1388–1413. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2005.12.004. 

Bielecki, J. 2002. “Energy Security: Is the Wolf at the Door?” The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance 42 (2): 235–250. doi:10.1016/S1062-9769(02)00137-0. 

Blackmore, Daniel. 2013. “Abandoning Nuclear Power: A Social Constructivist Analysis of Germany’s Response to Fukushima.” Journal of Politics & International Studies 9 (Summer 2013).

Cornell, Phillip F. 2009. “Energy Security as National Security: Defining Problems Ahead of Solutions.” Journal of Energy Security Feb. 2009 (February 19). 

The International Energy Agency. 2012. “Key World Energy Statistics 2012.”

Gupta, Eshita. 2008. “Oil Vulnerability Index of Oil-importing Countries.” Energy Policy 36 (3) (March): 1195–1211. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2007.11.011.

Ölz, Samantha, Ralph Sims, and Nicolai Kirchner. 2007. “Contribution of renewables to energy security.” International energy agency.

Wesley, Michael. 2007. Power plays: Energy and Australia’s security. Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2007.

Additional Resources:

Tabuchi, Hiroko. 2013. “To Expand Offshore Power, Japan Builds Floating Windmills.” The New York Times, October 24.

“The World’s Top Oil Consumers, 2006.” 2013. Middle East Issues. Accessed October 12.
Concentration Questions

1) Descriptive: What measurements are used to create global comparisons and rankings for countries like Japan or Germany, which measure and compare their energy independence or perceived energy security? Which countries in the Global North lack substantial fossil fuel reserves (coal, natural gas, oil)? What mix of energy types do these countries use instead of fossil fuels? What policies exist in these countries to build secure energy independence?

2) Explanatory:  How do the domestic resources available in a country affect its energy security? What factors, like economic health, popular opinion or military might, have shaped and continue to pressure governments of energy-poor to invest in certain power sources? What kinds of stimuli initiate shifts from one energy source to another? 

3) Evaluative: What kinds of legislation have proven to be the most economically effective ways in which countries pursue secure energy for their populaces, while minimizing externalities that damage ecological systems? What policies are Japan, France, Germany pursuing to foster secure energy independence and how have they changed over time? 

4) Instrumental: How can countries make the process of improving energy security more efficient as they transition between various energy sources? How can countries balance or minimize the economic costs of producing and distributing certain types of energy with the risks and externalities inherent to its production?

Concentration Tools

Mastering GIS is going to be important in order for me to contrast the spatial distribution and variety of energy resources in countries. Learning how to model and contrast economic statistics is also going to be crucial. I would like to learn more about political economic theory, the effects of technology developments and environmental movements on legislative efforts, and how disasters (both natural and human-spawned) pressure change.

Concentration Courses
  • IA 257 (Global Resource Dilemmas, 4 Credits): Spring 2014

    This course will allow me to look at dynamics between energy-producing and consuming countries, and resource-centered controversies that grow out of these interactions.  I do not intend this to be a breadth course.

  • POLS 307 (Government and the Economy, 4 credits): Fall 2014

    The role that government plays in the functioning of economies is the key indicator in my concentration: this course addresses public-utility regulation and policies which play into energy production and usage.

  • ENVS 460 (Topics in Environmental Law and Policy, 3 credits): Fall 2014

    This course will help me see how environmental legislation comes into being, and could help me better understand the priorities that legislators in energy insecure countries have foremost in their minds. 

  • ECON 365: (Public Economics, 4 credits): Spring 2015- This course is another resource which explores the interaction between government in market economies. Its emphasis on provision of public goods, externalities, and public choice, as well as its utilization of current events should help me see more implications and complex dimensions of legislation and national economic health.
  • IA 330: (Global Security, 4 credits): Fall 2015- This course will help me explore the significance countries place on security, and challenges relevant to both Western and non-Western societies.


Arts & Humanities Breadth Elective
Philosophy 215: No
History 261: Yes

  • HIST 112 (Making Modern Japan, 4 credits): Spring 2014

This course will help me situate myself in Japan when I go abroad.

Concentration Revisions

October 26, 2013:

Pre-feedback from Prof.  Safran and Coe

  • Added Germany and France as situated examples
  • Added Hist 112 as A & H course
  • Switched descriptive question to explanatory
  • Changed title to emphasize lack of fossil fuel and industrialized status of nations rather than the term “insecure”: energy insecurity does not apply smoothly to EU countries (whose energy sources are stable) as they purposefully undertake transitions

November 15, 2013:

Post-Feedback from Prof. Safran and Coe

  • Concentration Topic: Added more justification for my focus on developed, post-industrial countries (note- potential for comparison to transitions in developing nations as concentration develops further)
  • Means of Situating/ Situated Contexts, Actors and Processes: Added and refined Germany and France backgrounds into narratives similar to background on Fukushima and Japan (note- potential for contrasting narratives in concurrent time frames from unmentioned countries [e.g. Iceland, Canada, Brazil, Russia, United States])
  • Revised questions to emphasize existing policies as well as developing policies
  • Revised questions and summary into more continuous narrative
  • In general, tried to specify distinction between “non-fossil fuel sources,” because of confusion between renewable and nuclear energy