International Relations Natural Resources, Energy Politics, and Environmental Consequences
Markus Kröger
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0291


Life on Earth is undergoing major changes due to the converging and rapidly accelerating climate, biodiversity, pollution, and other environmental crises and emergencies. Global environmental and ecological constraints, consequences, and politics are becoming mainstream and necessary components to include in analysis across scientific fields. Over-extraction of resources in destructive ways is leading key ecosystems into states of collapse, species and habitats are being lost at record rates, and tipping points are cascading to produce a chaotic transformation. In this setting, resource extraction, in its varied forms, needs to be urgently analyzed in terms of its impacts and politics to understand, explain, transform, regulate, and govern the way natural resource sectors and actors affect the web of life. To this end, this article opens up natural resource politics, and how their unfolding has been analyzed globally and sectorially. Most of the studies related to or discussing the topic of extraction focus on the negative impacts of these projects, their developmental impacts, or the characteristics of conflicts related to extraction. Fewer studies focus on explaining what are the politics that lead to negative impacts, development, or conflicts. The studies on the politics behind extractive investment outcomes discuss the causal paths from political actions to extraction in different contexts mostly tangentially. Yet, constructivist studies by social scientists on natural resources have shown how resources and spaces of extracting resources are also created in social and political processes, which are typically international and related to existing power relations. Resources do not just exist out there, but are imagined when a part of nature is framed as a natural resource, and some areas are turned into sacrifice zones for extraction. These are places being destroyed as they do not matter to their extractors. The span of these localities has expanded over nations and subcontinents, placing us all in the sacrifice zone now, as Naomi Klein elucidates in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. This bibliography covers first the textbooks, followed by an assessment of the key dynamics in which resource politics are embedded, such as conflicts and developmental interventions, and their key actors: civil society, corporations, states, and global actors. Last, the particularities for different targets and sectors of extraction are assessed, including trees and forests, minerals, hydrocarbons and energy, water, and food and feed. For databases and resources, journals, and methodology of studying resource politics, please see the Oxford Bibliographies article “Politics of Extraction: Theories and New Concepts for Critical Analysis” which focuses on the key theories and organizing concepts.


The extraction of resources, and their turning into commodities, are used for many purposes in complex global politics and power relations. Van de Graaf, et al. 2016 reviews the international political economy of energy, which is the most central sector of extraction studied in international relations (IR). Yet many important extractions that deeply affect global affairs remain hidden, cast outside the scope both of most studies and of policymaking circles, as illustrated by the discussion of blood diamonds by Smillie 2014: diamonds and their international trade have become key tools for illicit actions ranging from tax evasion to money laundering, and weapons and drug trade. The focus on global resource dynamics is thus central for deepening the understanding of hidden yet crucial aspects of IR, which in the end also flow through material exchanges. The pushing, capitalist side of corporate resource extraction is well covered by Patel and Moore 2017 and Arboleda 2020, the latter of which also theorizes on the crucial role of technological changes for extraction localities and styles. Uranium cuts across several of the most central topics of IR, including security, the rise of global powers and hegemons, war, energy, and technological development, making its study imperative. Burke 2017 introduces the different facets of uranium in geopolitics. Likewise, food, analyzed by Clapp 2020, is a cross-cutting theme, and food and feed have become ever more central as worries over food security and campaigns for peasant-based food sovereignty have risen since the 2008 financial crisis, which directed considerable investment attention to tangible targets such as land and resources. Natural resource politics are affected by distinct polities and regional contexts, a topic Deonandan and Dougherty 2016 opens up by surveying the correlations and relations between extraction and politics in Latin America. A more global take on recent conflicts and activism around extraction is provided by Willow 2018. Some actors are key in natural resource politics: Klare 2019 explains how the Pentagon is deeply worried and preparing the US armed forces for the coming climate catastrophes, and the new geopolitics these will create, even if corporations or politicians would not be so worried about these issues.

  • Arboleda, Martín. Planetary Mine: Territories of Extraction under Late Capitalism. London: Verso Books, 2020.

    Explains the centrality of mining in contemporary capitalism, and how extraction and its technologies help to explain more broadly our current times. Offers a critical and neo-Marxist perspective.

  • Burke, Anthony. Uranium. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2017.

    Explains how the extraction of uranium is typically an uneven process, harming especially indigenous populations, and how the geopolitics of uranium are central in IR. Good discussion on the looming challenges of uranium-based versus other energy sources, and the dangers of nuclear armament.

  • Clapp, Jennifer. Food. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2020.

    A pathbreaking book on the often-overlooked global food industry, explaining how unequal global trade rules and the concentration of power to a few corporations have contributed to dire problems, to whose correction the book also provides suggestions and ways forward.

  • Deonandan, Kalowatie, and Michael L. Dougherty, eds. Mining in Latin America: Critical Approaches to the New Extraction. London: Routledge, 2016.

    Recommended to understand the global mining sector and how it is playing out in Latin America, reshaping its current politics by new extraction. Also contains chapters on the role of North American “mining imperialism,” investment rights regimes, and norm diffusion beyond Latin America. Illustrative of how a focus on particular resource sector dynamics can yield insights more generally for global studies.

  • Klare, Michael T. All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. New York: Henry Holt, 2019.

    The author’s latest book in a series of extremely important and impactful analyses on global resource extraction, war, security, and geopolitics. Essential for understanding the gravity of coming climate disruptions—and for understanding that one cannot conflate states with all their distinct institutions and governments, or the politicians occupying them at certain points of time.

  • Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. London: Penguin, 2015.

    Suitable for undergraduates, but also contains good insights and introductions about contemporary extractivism and climate politics and realities for those not so familiar with natural resource politics.

  • Patel, Raj, and Jason W. Moore. A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017.

    A must-read starting point to understand the role of capitalism in the world-ecology, and how “cheapening” directed at all aspects of life is a core mechanism in the political economy and ecology of the globe currently. Studies how global capitalism has treated food, energy, lives, care, work, money, and nature as resources that can be appropriated for accumulation. Excellent for undergraduates and introductory courses.

  • Smillie, Ian. Diamonds. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2014.

    An insider look into the blood diamonds, running from violence at the sites of extraction to the global criminality involved in diamonds trade, and the attempts to govern these ills.

  • Van de Graaf, Thijs, Benjamin K. Sovacool, Arunabha Ghosh, Florian Kern, and Michael T. Klare, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of the International Political Economy of Energy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    Key scholars provide a robust handbook, whose chapters are essential for understanding the political economy of energy.

  • Willow, Anna J. Understanding ExtrACTIVISM: Culture and Power in Nature Resource Disputes. London: Routledge, 2018.

    Geared mostly toward North American undergraduate students and others interested in the activism and conflicts related to extractive projects, this timely book offers mostly an anthropological overview of many global conflicts. Opens up the cultural transformations extractive disputes partake in centrally creating, especially among activist groups.

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