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The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin demonstrates how the global quest for energy will reshape our world.

By Brian Black / September 21, 2011

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World By Daniel Yergin Penguin Group 816 pp.

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What does an energy transition look like?

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Energy historians and policy analysts have struggled with this question since the 1970s. Will we know when we are in a transition away from fossil fuels?

If a transition goes on for decades, what will be the final tipping point? Will it be a catastrophic event, such as the Macondo Blowout and Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina, or the Fukushima nuclear problems in Japan? Maybe per-gallon gasoline prices rising above $5? Possibly a diplomatic conflict that escalates with nations going to war?

Or might that final push will come from a book? Not just any book, mind you. It would have to be a book by a particular author – not just any writer.

Daniel Yergin, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning “The Prize” (subsequently made into a PBS documentary series), may be that writer and The Quest – his latest work which presents readers with a portrait of our energy transition – may be that book. Yergin, Chairman of Cambridge Energy Associates, appears regularly on television (CNBC) and radio (NPR) as the leading analyst of the world’s energy markets – particularly petroleum. He personifies the emergence of the energy sector as a leading engine of the world economy.

There is little that is actually ground-breaking in “The Quest”; rather, what rocks the ground under our feet is the weight of Yergin’s authority. As the highly-paid analyst for energy corporations and international leaders, Yergin consistently dampens the alarmist calls of observers who bemoan dwindling oil supplies, the human responsibility for climate change, or the importance of conservation technology. He has often been accused of being a voice of the establishment; however, his impeccable data and analysis appear beyond reproach. In “The Quest,” he places this reputation in the field of energy – like a gambler’s tall stack of chips – on transition.

At the root of our energy moment, Yergin explains, is a fundamental realization of “how important energy is to the world.” By creating a portrait of the varying factors that compose the “globalization of energy demand,” Yergin is unequivocal in his assessment of the challenges facing energy-reliant nations.

No environmentalist paean, “The Quest” intimates that this shift serves as an opportunity for investors. “If this is to be an era of energy transition,” Yergin writes, “then the $6 trillion global energy market is ‘contestable.’ That is, it is up for grabs among the incumbents – the oil, gas, and coal companies that supply the bulk of today’s energy – and the new entrants –such as wind, solar, and biofuels – that want to capture a growing share of those dollars.” Readers will picture Yergin, the insider, in a low voice, sharing with them his vision of a remarkably different energy future. It is powerful stuff.

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