1973 vs. 2022

My sister and I, sitting on the family car a few years after the oil crisis.

Almost half a century ago, during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an embargo against the United States in retaliation for the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military and to gain leverage in the post-war peace negotiations. As a consequence of this, the western world plunged into an economic crisis. Energy prices rose to unprecedented heights, inflation rates were in double digits, the economy shrank and unemployment increased. 

Like today the misery was not least the result of energy dependence on autocratic states.

What would someone have thought almost 50 years ago if they had been told about the current situation? That in 2022, we will continue to depend on fossil fuels supplied by autocratic states. And that these dependencies will potentially lead to similarly harmful economic effects as in 1973.

Perhaps this person would be surprised that in 2022, there are still so many fossil fuels used. That they have not been used up long ago. And they would probably be astonished that the world seems to have learned little. About relying on fossil energies from autocrats.

Would they be right? What has changed in the past 50 years? What hasn’t? And what needs to change as soon as possible?

On the plus side of the development over the past 50 years, environmental conditions have improved in many countries, most of them prosperous countries. The air has become cleaner, rivers and soils less polluted.

Plus, poverty has decreased significantly. In 1981, 42 of the world’s population lived on less than two dollars a day; in 2019, it dropped to 9 per cent. 

And the number of people who die in wars has tended to fall since WWII, although more and more people live on earth. In some years in the early post-war era, around half a million people died through direct violence in wars. In recent years, the annual death toll has tended to be less than 100,000.

However, there are by no means only positive developments. The most recent: The war in Ukraine will cause the number of deaths to rise sharply this year. And the world continues to depend on fossil fuels from autocratic states. Plus, major environmental problems are unsolved: climate change and the reduction in biodiversity, to name the most important. In addition, malnutrition remains a widespread problem. Not to forget the ever-improving weapon techniques with increasingly terrifying destructive power that threaten our lives. 

So there are reasons to stay concerned. But it’s not like things are always getting worse. It is far from that. And as always, it is up to us to find ways out of crises. 

Especially the current one. Just like people did in 1973. Back then, the awareness had grown that a decoupling of economic growth and the use of resources is needed and that pollution has to be addressed. The fact that we are increasingly covering our energy needs with renewable energies is not least a result of the oil crisis of the 1970s. Time is running out for autocracies to be able to exert political pressure using fossil fuel reserves.

To sum it up: Many states have made progress over the last 50 years. But especially cross-border environmental problems are solved far too hesitantly. Plus, democracies are doing too little to make democracies stronger and more attractive to others. 

They must band together all around the world to amplify their strengths. In such an alliance, there are hardly any borders, not for products, not for services, not for people. And climate protection is rewarded in such an alliance. And the military protects these democracies.

Of course, this would not change the minds of autocrats and dictators. But yet the pressure on them would increase. Because people in such states could see more clearly what lives they could live if their rulers were no longer their rulers. 

Because one wish hasn’t changed – and probably never will: that people are thriving for a life worth living in all its facets.

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