Energy of all sorts was once hugely abundant, making possible the worldwide economic expansion of the past six decades. This expansion benefited the United States above all--along with its "First World" allies in Europe and the Pacific. Recently, however, a select group of former "Third World" countries--China and India in particular--have sought to participate in this energy bonanza by industrializing their economies and selling a wide range of goods to international markets. This, in turn, has led to an unprecedented spurt in global energy consumption--a 47% rise in the past 20 years alone, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE).
An increase of this sort would not be a matter of deep anxiety if the world's primary energy suppliers were capable of producing the needed additional fuels. Instead, we face a frightening reality: a marked slowdown in the expansion of global energy supplies just as demand rises precipitously. These supplies are not exactly disappearing--though that will occur sooner or later--but they are not growing fast enough to satisfy soaring global demand.
The combination of rising demand, the emergence of powerful new energy consumers, and the contraction of the global energy supply is demolishing the energy-abundant world we are familiar with and creating in its place a new world order. Think of it as: rising powers/shrinking planet.
This new world order will be characterized by tierce international competition for dwindling stocks of oil, natural gas, coal, and uranium, as well as by a tidal shift in power and wealth from energy-deficit states like China, Japan, and the United States to energy-surplus states like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. In the process, the lives of everyone will be affected in one way or another--with poor and middle-class consumers in the energy-deficit states experiencing the harshest effects. That's most of us and our children, in case you hadn't quite taken it in.
Here, in a nutshell, are five key forces in this new world order which will change our planet:
Intense competition between older and newer economic powers for available supplies of energy. Until very recently, the mature industrial powers of Europe, Asia, and North America consumed the lion's share of energy and left the dregs for the developing world. As recently as 1990, the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and State Development (OECD), the club of the world's richest nations, consumed approximately 57% of world energy; the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact bloc, 14%; and only 29% was left to the developing world. But that ratio is changing: With strong economic growth in the developing countries, a greater proportion of the world's energy is being consumed by them. By 2010, the developing world's share of energy use is expected to reach 40% and, if current trends persist, 47% by 2030.
China plays a critical role in all this. The Chinese alone are projected to consume 17% of world energy by 2015, and 20% by 2025--by which time, if trend lines continue, it will have overtaken the United States as the world's leading energy consumer. India, which, in 2004, accounted for 3.4% of world energy use, is projected to reach 4.4% percent by 2025, while consumption in other rapidly industrializing nations like Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Turkey is expected to grow as well.
These rising economic dynamos will have to compete with the mature economic powers for access to remaining untapped reserves of exportable energy--in many cases, bought up long ago by the private energy firms of the mature powers like Exxon Mobil...