History showed us that human societies compete for Earth resources, land, water, minerals, agriculture produce and industrial products for survival then for higher standard of living motivated by human aspiration for civilization and economic welfare, ultimately measurable by food, material and energy consumption. Nations form, civilizations advance and countries compete for their people’s welfare (in varied degree since no government can completely satisfy its people’s desire) by securing Earth resources, producing goods, trading with others and maintaining economic growth and improving standard of living. Nations do not always have to compete; collaboration can yield win-win benefits; notably medical research has led to elimination of human diseases and immigration policies have led to talent migration and many successes in mining, farming to technology development. Unfortunately, competition was prevailing in the past 100 years, the developed countries advanced faster than the less-developed countries thus creating a large wealth/productivity gap between nations, especially in technology applications exhibited by the standard of living and GDP.
Today, the world population is about 7.3 billion; huge wealth gap exists between and within nations. All 195 countries (193 UN members) on Earth want to develop economically. China (1.4 billion people), has made exceptional progress in that endeavor in the past 30-40 years lifting several hundreds of millions of people above the poverty line and making her the number two economy in the world. China’s success has become an envy of the world. Many countries want to emulate China’s success but sadly some countries tout a China Threat Theory using speculative arguments partly ideological and partly historical stories such as the Thucydides Trap. As the world leader, the U.S. has helped and claimed the credit for opening to China and contributing to her growth but began to contemplate the China Threat Theory. This shift of position, from engagement/collaboration to threat/competition will impact the future of China and the U.S. as well as the entire world. This is a serious issue; we must understand ‘what is the real threat to the U.S. and to the world’? Is there a peaceful solution to the real threat? What will be our future under a competition versus a collaboration model?
We have gone through a Cold War, but it did not change the world for the better. Shifting the China policy and reviving a new Cold War does not make sense at all because China is not a real threat to the U.S. or to the world. The real threat is that the world is resources limited and almost depleted which will thwart the economic development of the world, including the U.S., China and every country on Earth. Global trade is not a zero-sum game. Businesses will adjust their strategy depending on the market shift and market needs. The world market grows as population grows as people desiring for better-living. Economic growth should not be a zero-sum game if the Earth resources were not limited. Unfortunately, Earth is resource limited, thus a ‘competition model’ is vulnerable and destructive whereas a ‘collaboration model’ is the plausible alternative.
Human societies require many resources which can be categorized broadly as food (including land and water to grow food), materials (including minerals and production materials and technologies) and energy (including oil, gas, coal, nuclear and renewable). In the food category, the world has been able to produce sufficient food to feed the Earth’s population if nations collaborate and trade with a ‘charitable mind’. Barring natural disasters such as quakes, floods and tsunamis or poor government policies and management, there will be no food shortage. Although Earth does not have infinite mineral supply but with technology improving discovery, production, material recovery and recycling plus innovative design, manufacturing, and ingenious applications, the material supply is not a threat. Even in the case of ‘rare earth’ minerals, a collaborative approach rather than a competitive manner can satisfy the world demand for generations.
The energy category is the most important element in sustaining human civilization and its advances. In fact, the energy consumption level, with heating and cooling needs in regions near the poles and the equator adjusted, is a good indicator for the standard of living. The ultimate need in energy is electricity, except some old appliances burning oil, gas or coal for transport, heating and cooking. Scientists have already shown that the above three energy sources are being depleted fast. On top of that, they contribute to pollution and climate change that are harmful to human. The renewable energies are also limited because of the limited land, water, sunlight and wind cycle. The nuclear energy is expensive and requires careful control, management and waste disposal to avoid devastating accidents. To explore high efficiency and high power nuclear energy such as fusion energy (man-made sun), it requires collaborations among world scientists and researchers to achieve breakthroughs.
The technical indicator most useful for illustrating human society’s energy dependency (civilization, GDP etc) is the per capita electric power usage (KWHr per person). Most appliances, facilities and utilities humans use all require electricity, and it is more desirable to convert other forms of energy (heat from burning substance to hydraulic, geothermal or wind power) to electricity for the end application for efficiency and convenience. It is desirable to develop electric cars to replace gasoline cars for pollution reduction and energy conservation. Of course, electric power comes from other forms of limited energy sources, thus human electricity consumption is ultimately limited unless breakthroughs such as fusion energy becomes a reality.
The world electric power consumption is about 22 trillion KWHr per year (2014 CIA data). Divided by 7.3 billion people (2014 data), it means that 2700 KWHr/person/yr. However, the world electric power usage is not even and fair among nations reflecting their economic status. For example, the U.S. uses about 4 trillion KWHr/yr amounts to ~12 KWHr/person/yr (2015-2016 CIA data) and China uses about 6.4 trillion KWHr/yr amounts to only 4.4 KWHr/person/yr (2017 NEA data), less than 40% of the US per capita usage. In comparison, India uses 1.1KWHr/p/yr, Japan uses 7.5KWHr/p/yr (2016 CIA data) and African nations use very small amount of electricity, all reflecting the nation’s per capita GDP and its people’s the standard of living. The real threat is that the limited energy sources on Earth cannot support the growth of world energy demand.
As nations develop, raising their people’s standard of living, human society needs to find new energy, otherwise, the zero-sum formula (energy) will dictate. As populated developing nations such as China and India develop their economy, they have to take more share of the world energy supply. This is the real threat to the U.S., the biggest per capita electricity user next to Germany, and China, the most populated nation, because their combined usage of electric power is about 50% of the world supply. Apparently, China is aware of this problem and is conscientiously seeking solutions. China has allocated huge budget to develop energy sources, notably several large hydraulic power stations on their rivers, Yangtze, Yellow and Qinghai Rivers. China makes a great effort in renewable energies as the largest producer and user of solar panels and perhaps also wind turbines. China explores geothermal energy and the frozen methane under Deep Ocean. China is also educating their citizens on conservation through life style curtailing waste, tightening pollution control and limiting carbon emission. China is a keen supporter of the Paris Climate Control Agreement.