Powering energy transitions and transactions: a summary and conclusions
How to package the transmutations in the political economy of global energy over the past century into a tidy model has eluded me. To cover events, often tumultuous, and key trends and to keep visible necessary chronological road signs has been difficult enough. The world's nations and peoples experienced diverse and complex energy transitions. The locus of national and world power constantly shifted. Power blocs rose and decayed. The material wealth of some societies underwent mind boggling growth while other peoples seemed frozen in want and despair. Technologies advanced beyond the ability of intelligent people to comprehend their workings or to predict their consequences. Most recently, people in many lands have become unhappily aware of the harsh, wounding impact on fragile environments of unrestrained, and fossil fuel propelled, economic growth. The many imponderables associated with these transformations assumed a magnitude too great for me to fold within a generalization or two or three.
Since the mid- nineteenth century, the compulsion and ability to augment material abundance stands out as the dominant characteristic of the advanced, as well as lesser developed, economies. The rise or fall of standards of living were charted by exclusively economic criteria. Into the post World War II years, quality of life considerations, less susceptible of quantification, were generally ignored. Even now, the quality of air or water, the distribution of educational opportunities, the adequacy of housing, and other socio-cultural variables rarely intruded into calculations of living standards. The environmental costs required to reach a certain level of income ought to give societies pause. Are the gratifications purchased by the generous incomes of many more valuable than the resources consumed to generate those incomes? Can,