events archive

The collapse of oil prices: origins and impacts

7:00pm, Thursday 19 February 2015, Tim Berners-Lee Room, Digital Catapult, 9th Floor, 101 Euston Road, London, NW1 2RA

This event, jointly hosted by the IoI Economy Forum and the Big Potatoes Energy Workgroup, will cover two distinct topics. First, the causes and consequences of rising oil prices, and second, a look at the interpretation of extreme weather events.


Just a moment ago, the world was supposed to be running out of oil. But as the price of a barrel of the black stuff has fallen from more than $100 to about $50 today, so talk of ‘peak’ oil has faded. Instead the doctrine has grown that oil, like other fossil fuels, is a massive, increasingly worthless ’stranded asset’ – and that that its price will be depressed for a long time, particularly as growth in China slows.


1) What weight do the various factors – China’s prospects, US shale oil, Saudi shenanigans, the commodities price cycle – have in explaining the collapse of oil prices?

2) For how long might we expect oil prices to stay low?

3) How were other forms of energy – biofuels, gas, coal, nuclear and renewables – doing before the collapse, and how are they likely to do now?

4) What are likely to be the main impacts of low oil prices on transport, petrochemicals, industry and services?


James Woudhuysen


After the floods in Wales and the West Country, it seems, British popular feeling is more disposed to the idea that man-made climate changes today brings about a higher frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events. Perhaps people are right to blame humanity for bad weather. On the other hand, such an approach might really be little more than an old folk tale.


1. In 2006, the poster for and cover of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth showed a hurricane rising out of a smokestack. Nine years later, what’s new about today’s alarm about extreme weather ?

2. In attributing extreme weather events to climate change, what arguments does the ‘attribution community’ use to underline human culpability for such events? Why? And which might we agree with?

3. More broadly: in what ways does it and what ways does it not make sense to understand the relationship between extreme weather events and climate change?

4. What is the best response to arguments that economic growth cannot insulate people from the effects of extreme weather?


Joe Kaplinsky


James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky



Overviews on oil prices
INVESTEC, Our outlook for oil prices and global energy, January 2015
Financial Times, ‘Oil: the Big Drop’, 26 January 2015
Foreign Policy coverage of oil
Fortune coverage of oil
Chris Matthews, ‘Nouriel Roubini: Cheap oil won’t last’, Fortune
Andrew Critchlow, ‘Saudi Arabia’s King Salman aims to win oil war Naimi started’, Daily Telegraph, 27 January 2015

The effect on renewables
Edward Lucas, ‘Let there be light’, Special Report, The Economist, 17 January 2015
Fortune video, The effect of low oil prices on renewable energy companies, 23 January 2015

The effect on Britain
Philip Aldrick, ‘Falling oil costs boost company profitability to 16-year high’, The Times, 14 January 2015 (£)

The Russian dimension
Daniel Gros, ‘The price of oil and of Soviet/Russian aggressiveness


Alarm about extreme weather
Climate concern ‘linked to floods’, BBC News, 29 January 2015
Study: Global warming ‘doubles risk’ of extreme weather, BBC News, 26 January 2015
British belief in climate change on the rise, research finds, Guardian, 29 January 2015

Overview of the debate
Mike Hulme, ‘Attributing weather extremes to “climate change”: A review’, Progress in Physical Geography 2014, Vol. 38(4) 499–511 (submitted version)

Disputes among the attributers
Myles Allen, ‘In defense of the traditional null hypothesis: remarks on the Trenberth and Curry WIREs opinion articles’, WIREs Clim Change 2011, 2:931–934

Heatwaves, precipitation, droughts – and adaptation to them
Press release
Summary for Policy Makers
Full report

Heatwaves, other events, and the limited observational record
Herring, S. C., M. P. Hoerling, T. C. Peterson, and P. A. Stott, Eds., September 2014: ‘Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective’. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 95 (9), S1–S96.

Against attribution
Roger Pielke Jr, The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change, November 2014

events archive