The struggle between America and China to secure oil, and other increasingly scarce resources, will dominate this century, potentially fuelling a cold war that could erupt into “unimaginable slaughter”. This nightmare is conjured by the American security studies academic Michael Klare in his illuminating account of the emergence of a new international order in which nations are ranked according to access to energy rather than arms.
Oil is becoming the “pre-eminent strategic resource on the planet” as it becomes harder to extract while demand soars. By 2030 America and China will jointly consume 42 million barrels of oil per day. Their contest to secure oil can be tense. In 2005 the attempt by a Chinese state-run oil company to buy an American firm with large oil reserves was blocked on national security grounds.
Klare sees hints of future conflict in these edgy geopolitical manoeuvres. But he believes that the fading of the Petroleum Age could – and should – push the two countries to co-operate on a vast range of energy and environmental projects, including the development of new motor fuels. Despite the worrying evidence he presents, Klare believes it is not too late to avert catastrophe.