Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq, ISIS, Ebola—the list of this past summer’s disasters is long. But buried among the tragic headlines and breaking news are other events that attracted less attention but could be just as consequential for global affairs. Here are five to watch.
1) The fall of oil prices. Over the summer oil prices dropped to the lowest level in a year. The fluctuation alone is nothing special. What is remarkable, however, is that this drop occurred amid severe sanctions against Russia and wars in the Middle East and Ukraine—in other words, at a time when crude-oil prices should be soaring. What’s going on? The energy revolution taking place in the United States has reached sufficient scale where it is beginning to alter international dynamics. The U.S. has overtaken Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s main oil-producing nation. In August, U.S. monthly oil production was at its highest level since 1986. Meanwhile, the anemic global economy is not generating as much demand for energy as it did during the booming years that preceded the Great Recession that started in 2008. The combination of greater supply and weaker demand is pulling prices down and having a much larger effect than the upward push created by the current geopolitical instability. This summer we witnessed a clear manifestation of an incipient and potentially transformative energy order.
2) The worst American drought in more than a century. The western United States, Mexico, and Central America have gone three years with very little rainfall, and the situation grew dire this summer. Sixty percent of California is now experiencing “exceptional drought,” the most extreme category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The volume of water lost by lack of rain and snow could cover the entire area stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast with four inches of water. California’s three largest reservoirs are at roughly 30-percent capacity and a new study from the University of California, Davis estimates that the current drought will cost the state $2.2 billion in damages and 17,000 jobs. The west’s severe drought wasn’t this summer’s only climatic surprise. “2014 has not been typical,” reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Never before have such large areas of the country experienced such radically different temperature extremes as they have so far this year. (The map below shows just how divergent temperature patterns were across the contiguous United States between January and July 2014.)