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The Age of Energy Disruptions

In recent months the world has been thrown into a global energy crisis that seems to have taken observers as well as global leaders by surprise. In September and October, wholesale prices of natural gas and electricity brutally surged in Europe, several energy providers went bust in the UK, China and then India experienced widespread coal shortages and large-scale power blackouts, and fuel prices rapidly spiked across the world. All these developments seemed to be only loosely correlated at first, but the simultaneity of their occurrence suggests that they might in fact be the various facets of something unfolding all at once across the world. Suddenly we are in the middle of a global energy crisis, or even facing a worldwide “energy shock”, as The Economist recently titled…

According to a monthly index of energy costs including oil, natural gas, coal, and propane published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global energy price shock of October 2021 was in fact the worst since 2008, when the price of oil shot up to almost US$ 150 right before the onset of the ‘Great Financial Crisis’ (GFC). Back then the oil price however quickly collapsed in the following months as the world was sucked in a downward financial spiral. Today there are signs that energy prices may be headed higher for longer, and more than the 2008 spike our situation is therefore bringing back memories of what remains “the” energy crisis par excellence in living memory, that of the 1970s.

However, what we are facing today is unlikely to be just a repeat of what happened 50 years ago. The world is a very different place now than what it was back then. The causes of our energy crisis are different as well, and so are likely to be its consequences.

Not the 1970s all over again

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