Michael A. Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, and director of the CFR program on energy security and climate change. He is an expert on climate change, energy security, arms control, and nuclear terrorism.
Before joining CFR, Dr. Levi was a nonresident science fellow and a science and technology fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Prior to that, he was director of the Federation of American Scientists' Strategic Security Project.
Dr. Levi is author of The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future(Oxford University Press, May 2013), and By All Means Necessary: How China's Resource Quest is Changing the World (with Elizabeth Economy), (Oxford University Press, February 2014). He is also the author of the books On Nuclear Terrorism (Harvard University Press, 2007) and (with Michael O'Hanlon) The Future of Arms Control (Brookings Institution Press, 2005). He was project director for the CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force on climate change, co-chaired by former governors Tom Vilsack and George Pataki. His 2005 monograph with Michael D'Arcy, Untapped Potential: U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation with the Islamic World, was the first comprehensive study of science and technology in the Muslim world. His recent writings include studies of natural gas exports, the Canadian oil sands, and the global politics and economics of clean energy innovation.
Dr. Levi has testified before Congress and presented expert scientific evidence to the National Academy of Sciences on climate change and on nuclear security. His essays have been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Nature, and Scientific American, among others. His op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times. Dr. Levi previously wrote a monthly online column on science and security for the New Republic, and served as a technical consultant to the critically acclaimed television drama 24. He currently writes a blog on energy, climate, and nuclear issues.
Dr. Levi holds a BSc (Hons.) in mathematical physics from Queen's University (Kingston) and an MA in physics from Princeton University, where he studied string theory and cosmology. He holds a PhD in war studies from the University of London (King's College), where he was the SSHRC William E. Taylor fellow. He lives in New York.
Energy, Economics, and International Security
Energy has long been intimately connected with the global economy and international relations. But with rapid changes in the energy landscape, the international economy, and world affairs, scholars' and policymakers' understandings of how energy influences the world are increasingly out of date. In 2010, I convened a workshop to identify important research questions in this space, and published a working paperoutlining important areas for investigation. Since then, I've led an effort to answer many of those questions (along with others that have emerged) through a mix of my own research, commissioned papers, and intensive workshops. My own recent work has produced, among other products, books on the future of U.S. energy and Chinese resource strategyand papers on natural gas exports, the influence of oil in international diplomacy, and the potential role of oil taxes in fiscal reform. Commissioned papers have addressed matters ranging from oil dependence in the Chinese military to the impact of falling U.S. oil imports on the current account. Future activities will continue to illuminate and clarify the relationships between energy, economics, and international security, with an eye toward insights that can inform pressing policy decisions.
This project is made possible through the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Climate Change and Foreign Policy
Climate change is the ultimate foreign policy problem: meeting the aggressive emissions-cutting goals agreed to by governments will require strong action from every major economy in the world. Effectively tackling climate change will require sustained dialogue and collaboration between the climate change and foreign policy communities, much as effective Cold War arms control required collaboration between specialists in nuclear weapons and in foreign policy. My activities aim to build these dialogues through two main means. I conduct and publish research on connections between energy production and climate change, in policy and scientificjournals, and convene dialogues that mix energy producers and people who focus on climate change. Since energy production is a critical part of the international security and foreign policy landscape, this is essential to bridging the two worlds. I also host a series of roundtable discussions that expose foreign policy experts to recent developments in the climate change world. My ongoing activities extend both efforts while deepening a two-way dialogue between the climate policy and foreign policy communities.
China's pursuit of natural resources is restructuring markets, pushing up commodity prices, and transforming resource-rich economies. Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi explore the unrivaled expansion of the Chinese economy and the global effects of its meteoric growth.
A groundbreaking analysis of what the changes in American energy mean for the economy, national security, and the environment, authored by one of America's most prominent experts on energy's role in the world.
Michael A. Levi says, "The benefits of the oil and gas boom—jobs, wealth and, in the case of natural gas, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—offer plenty of reasons to continue to develop these resources judiciously. But we should beware of turning this potential blessing into an unintended curse."
Drawing on lessons from a Council on Foreign Relations workshop in January 2012, Blake Clayton and Michael A. Levi examine the connection between global oil markets and international relations, saying that in many cases the oil trade is politically consequential simply because policymakers believe that it is.
While California may not be getting much attention at this year's UN climate talks in Doha, "California's new cap-and-trade system is perhaps the biggest good news climate story this year, and delegates in Doha should be celebrating it," says Michael A. Levi.
Michael A. Levi says natural gas is a good and inexpensive alternative to coal and oil, but it's still a fossil fuel. Keeping in mind that gas is far from a permanent climate solution, delegates meeting in Doha for the UN climate change negotiations "should strengthen their efforts, individually and collectively, to promote innovation and development of cost-effective zero-carbon energy options."
Michael A. Levi and Micah Zenko say nuclear terrorism, however unlikely, is one of the few prospects that could truly devastate the USA, and there are still steps that the U.S. can take to reduce the odds of a catastrophic attack.
Michael A. Levi argues that the likely benefits of allowing U.S. natural gas exports outweigh the costs of explicitly constraining them, provided that appropriate environmental protections are in place.
The talks between Iranian and IAEA officials will focus on potential inspections at the Parchin military base, and the outcome will influence upcoming P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran in Moscow, says CFR's Michael Levi.
Heads of fifty nations are discussing how to improve safeguards for nuclear weapons and materials. CFR's Michael Levi says these summits serve as reminders of the dangers beyond the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.
The winner of the U.S. presidential election will face at least three sets of climate challenges including reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, facing international pressure, and developing climate-friendly technology, says CFR's Michael Levi.
Richard N. Haass and Michael A. Levi say it is in the American interest to pursue a negotiated outcome to the current impasse with Iran because the main alternatives to diplomacy—war or the existence of an Iran with nuclear weapons—will be costly and risky.
Joe Nocera will be reading The Power Surge by Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "He's a pragmatist. He doesn't buy into the pieties of the right or the pieties of the left. He thinks about practical solutions, what works, what doesn't, what makes sense, and where we're truly headed in terms of energy."
In The Power Surge, Michael Levi takes readers inside the changes sweeping American energy to find out what they mean for the country and how the United States can harness the new opportunities they create.
By All Means Necessary
In By All Means Necessary, Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi explore the unrivaled expansion of the Chinese economy and the global effects of its meteoric growth.