The Putin-Xi Economic War Games

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at BRICS Summit in Brasilia
Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
August 17, 2022

A year ago, back before Puck was even a thing, I chatted with my friend Dan Yergin, one of the world’s leading authorities on our collective energy transformation as well as the author of The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations, in which he argues that shovels, for mining rare commodities, will one day be more important than drilling rigs. He is also a Pulitzer Prize winner, of course, for his fourth book, The Prize, and a vice-chairman of S&P Global, the data behemoth. He’s a busy man, and prophetic. When we spoke last September, Dan predicted a series of developments then still on the horizon: supply-chain troubles with electric cars, Europe’s energy crisis, and Joe Biden’s climate reduction goals, among others. 

One year later, we had coffee at my house in Nantucket and chatted about a new set of clear and present dangers: the U.S.’s economic war with China; Vladimir Putin’s European machinations; and the race to penetrate markets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But before we even got to any of that, Yergin was focused on, of all things, copper. So much so, in fact, that I was reminded of that famous scene in The Graduate during which Benjamin Braddock’s family friend lectures him poolside at the cocktail party, “One word: plastics.” After all, Yergin and his colleagues at S&P Global have just completed an intensive eight-month study of copper and the role it will play in the evolution of energy consumption by increasing the use of electricity and decreasing the use of fossil-fuels. The problem is that in order to meet the world’s 2050 net-zero emission targets, according to Yergin, the demand for copper—the “metal of electrification”—is on a flight path to greatly exceed global supply. And that could mean higher prices for copper.