Seeking a future free of fossil fuels: Why the past matters

By on March 15, 2019

Energy Futures Lab and the Sustainable Gas Institute host a talk from Simon Pirani of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies on the past, present and future of fossil fuels.

To envisage a transition away from fossil fuels, understanding how we arrived at current unsustainable consumption levels is crucial.

The talk will propose ways of studying fossil fuel use – and particularly rapid consumption growth since the mid 20th century – through the lens of global history. Historians need to synthesise an understanding of both the technological systems by and through which fuels are consumed, and the social and economic systems in which they are embedded.

Turning-points in consumption patterns, such as the expansion of fuel-intensive industries in the rich world after the second world war; the recovery of demand after the 1970s oil price shocks; and the effect of globalisation and the “third technological revolution” from the 1980s; will be considered.

Study of these interwoven histories may help us to understand, first, the political history of the international climate negotiations, and, second, the negotiations’ disastrous failure to achieve their central aim, i.e. to reverse fossil fuel consumption growth.

The talk will discuss the quantitative methods used to research consumption, and consider the relative importance of individual final-use consumption, and consumption by and through technological and economic systems.

Simon Pirani is author of Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption (Pluto, August 2018). He is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, where he has worked on the natural gas research programme since 2007, writing numerous papers and articles on the natural gas sector in Russia, Ukraine, central Asia and the Caspian. He was editor of The Russian Gas Matrix: how markets are driving change (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Prior to joining the Institute, Simon wrote about Russia and Ukraine as a historian and journalist. His books include The Russian Revolution in Retreat: Soviet workers and the new communist elite 1920-24 (Routledge, 2008) and Change in Putin’s Russia: Power, Money and People (Pluto, 2010).

The talk Seeking a future free of fossil fuels: Why the past matters will be held at Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Imperial College on Thursday 21st of March 2019.

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