Has the world learnt
to live with the one hundred dollar barrel of oil? Perhaps it has been
anticipated for so long that it has ceased to frighten. Certainly there were no
panics or signs of catastrophe when the symbolic price was passed.
Perhaps there should
Cheap power has been
the basis of the Industrial Revolution since the days of Boulton and Watt in
the 18th Century.
The problem is that we
take it for granted. The electrification programmes and the establishment of
grids in the first half of the 20th Century were marvels of
engineering, but perhaps they made it look too easy. We now rely on them totally
without thinking about them.
Sometimes a crisis
reminds us how totally dependant we are on cheap energy. The rise of OPEC in
the 1970s panicked the West, and a few hours of “brownouts” or power cuts in a
major city can demonstrate how fragile our civilisation really is.
There was something
deeply symbolic about the fact that the 2-3 million people who lost power in their
homes in Florida last week included those employed at the Kennedy Space Centre.
Yet the public at
large seem unable or unwilling to think about the link between such events and
their own energy consumption. I spent a few months in Los Angeles in 2001 at
the time of the “brownouts” caused by the breakdown of the California
electricity supply – not that one would have known from the bright lights that
were never dimmed so long as power remained available.
afford to be so short-sighted. We must prepare for the probability that our
businesses may not be able to rely on the cheap energy we have always taken for
granted. We may also see new opportunities in finding new sources of energy or
ways of doing things using less energy.
Either way, the
hundred dollar barrel should be appreciated as a useful warning sign for those
prepared to heed it.