We cannot afford to dither any longer about the impending energy crisis. All governments must act now The great game of the 21st century is being played out before our eyes, but few seem to notice.

Last week, Tony Blair hinted that he was prepared to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear reactors at an as yet unknown cost.

In Iraq, an American-inspired deal to hand over development of oil reserves, the third largest in the world, to US and British companies is being rushed through by the oil minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi before next month's election.

In Russia, President Putin has ruthlessly constructed a monopoly of oil and gas production which controls some 90 per cent of the country's reserves. On the way, he imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, stripping his oil giant, Yukos, of its assets and, in a separate deal, paid off Khodorkovsky's fellow oligarch, Roman Abramovich, with US $13 billion for his stake in the oil producer Sibneft. The link is the supply of energy to the high-consuming, wasteful Western democracies.

With about 50 years of oil reserves left and maybe 85 years of gas, the struggle for control of the world's energy resources will increasingly dictate events. It will impact on each of us and there will be almost no area of domestic or foreign policy unaffected by this desperate scramble. Lest people think that the invasion of Iraq was undertaken to establish democracy and eliminate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, rather than to secure Iraq's oil reserves, then last Monday's revelations about Chalabi's 30-year binding contracts should give them pause.

If you imagine that Tony Blair's musing on the nuclear option popped out of the blue, just remember Putin's visit to Britain in October and the conversation the two leaders had on the sidelines of the Russia-EU summit. Believe me, they were talking about gas, not chatting about democratic reform in Russia. Having consolidated Russia's state monopoly, Putin came to Europe with his power greatly enhanced. More than 25 per cent of Europe's natural gas is supplied by Russia: By 2020, that figure will be nudging 40 per cent. The former KGB officer has got his hand resting on Europe's throat and with rising gas prices, it cannot be anything but sensible for Blair to look at other options.

These events and the cold assessment of what lies ahead are way above an average individual's understanding or awareness. We are so used to having all the energy we require that we are barely conscious of our needs and do not trouble ourselves with realities of the world as it is and, more seriously, as it will be.