The Economist has a very timely article (subscription required) in the latest issue about the risks associated with a collapse in house-prices in major economies around the world, where price inflation in recent years appears to have spiralled almost out of control.
Oil prices have soared from around USD10/barrel in 1998 to over USD50/barrel in recent times and the latest information I have is that "West Texas Intermediate crude oil reached USD56.75 during trading this week". According to today's Telegraph, Brent crude yesterday rose USD1.54 to close in New York at USD57.84, with oil trading at USD58.10/barrel, a rise of USD1.52/barrel. All this is said to be driven by buoyant demand in the US, although China is increasingly becoming a major factor, too.
There are persistent rumours, too, about the ability of utility suppliers to provide adequate supplies of gas to consumers (industrial and residential) during the coming northern European winter, not least to the UK, where domestically produced gas supplies (from the North Sea) have fallen more sharply than had been forecast and the ability of the interconnector between Belgium and the UK to supply the winter shortfall is being questioned. In any case, the price of this form of energy seems certain to rise considerabbly. There were similar fears for the UK's gas supply last winter, although the system appears to have coped, despite warnings at some points that the security of supply was dangerously low. How will we fare this coming winter and will the forecast that factories may be forced to shut for "days, weeks or longer in order to cut gas use", as suggested by World Gas Intelligence, an industry analyst, prove to be unduly alarmist? I am not competent to judge, but it certainly gives pause for thought.
I've written a few times before (here and here, for example) about what all this might mean for the way we have grown used to living. Energy is the driver for a great deal of what goes on in this world. We have always found a way in the past to solve our energy problems, but that does not mean that major social, economic and political changes have not come in the wake of these changes and the same groundswell for radical change could well be developing faster than many realise. Some of the changes that have begun to occur in recent years, for example the increase in what amounts to state surveillance and control of the lives of citizens even in what pass for 'mature democracies', are not at all to my liking, but I have the feeling that some of the changes to come may dwarf those so far seen or projected.
Do I really feel as apocalyptic about our futures as this might seem? Well, not entirely, but I certainly do wonder. Curiously enough, David at Freedom and Whisky has been writing on a similar theme earlier today, although perhaps not in the 'Mystic Meg' way I have permitted myself here.