World wars and the age of oil: Exploring directionality in deep energy transitions


This paper explores the role of the world wars in 20th century energy transitions, focusing on the growth of oil as a major energy source which accelerated after the Second World War in North America and Europe. We utilise the recently developed Deep Transitions framework which combines Techno-Economic Paradigms and sociotechnical transitions approaches. The first deep transition entails the long running emergence of industrial modernity since the late 18th century which culminated in the post-Second World War economic ‘golden age’ underpinned by rapid and stable growth and prosperity in North America and Western Europe. The Deep Transitions framework draws attention to the increasing role of fossil fuels over this long period, and how fossil fuel consumption accelerated in the 20th century taking on a particular direction where energy, mobility, and food systems became increasingly reliant on oil while the share of coal as a proportion of the energy mix decreased. This paper integrates sociotechnical, historical and geopolitical literatures to examine how the development of the age of oil was shaped by wartime demand pressures and logistical challenges and the search for new solutions to these challenges in the United States of America and the United Kingdom

Document Type:
Journal Article

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