The Big Thirst

The New York Times takes a long look at tensions around the future of –a future in which China looks to play an ever more influential role:

China, and the Middle East are in the midst of exceptional economic booms and need cheap , which is largely subsidized by their governments, to keep growing and modernizing.

Oil now accounts for just 19 percent of China’s energy needs. But China’s oil demand is expected to more than double by 2030 to over 16 million barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency, as more people rise from poverty, move out of villages and buy more cars.

ILLUSTRATION FOR TIME MAGAZINE BY CLARK MITCHELL

ILLUSTRATION FOR TIME MAGAZINE BY CLARK MITCHELL

Just as in the United States, much of the increase in China’s oil demand has come from that country’s love affair with cars. The number of vehicles in China rose sevenfold between 1990 and 2006, to 37 million. China has now surpassed both Germany and Japan to become the second-largest car market in the world, and is set to overtake the United States by around 2015. China could have as many as 300 million vehicles by 2030.

William Chandler, an energy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, estimates that if the Chinese were using energy like Americans, global energy use would double overnight and five more Saudi Arabias would be needed just to meet oil demand. India isn’t far behind. By 2030, the two counties will import as much oil as the United States and Japan do today.

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