Egypt’s Conflagration is an Advance Warning for an Unsustainable World

egypt riots cairoClimate change, peak oil and too many mouths to feed topples the first of the world’s now fragile economies.

Egypt is just the first nation to see the instability predicted as a result of climate change, peak oil and the unsustainable numbers of people on this planet. But this is where we are all headed, dictatorship-ruled or not. Of course, nobody likes to be governed by a dictator. But anger at 30 years of dictatorial rule came to a head this year because other issues put increasing pressure on the nation. A rising population, rising food and energy prices and reductions in energy production play a big role in this conflagration.

The three factors that play into Egypt’s now unsustainable economy; climate change, unsustainable population growth and peak oil are the same three bogymen facing the rest of civilization over the next few decades of the 21st century. Due to climate change, Egypt’s crops are failing. Due to peak oil, its exports no longer provide the population cheap energy. Due to its unsustainable population growth, both pressures are exacerbated.

Egypt has a very long history as a grain exporter – almost to the dawn of civilization. In the last few years, with rising temperatures, its crops have failed.

Egypt has gone from an exporter to being dependent on grain imports from other nations like Russia, nations which are themselves hard hit by crops destroyed by droughts due to climate change. Russia cut its grain supply to Egypt this year, and Egypt’s food prices have risen.

Egypt now has to import 40% of all of its food, and 60% of its wheat. Temperatures are rising; 2010 was the highest ever. Wheat prices worldwide recently doubled from $4.26 a bushel over just the summer. Nations like Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt are dependent on the world market prices for wheat.

Americans imagine that that won’t happen here, that a nation that has exported food for two hundred years will always have that security. But scientists have made it clear that Kansas cannot continue to grow corn when there are too many days over 86 degrees Fahrenheit in a summer, and that that exactly what is coming to this country by late in this century.

But even worse for Egypt than the direct impact of climate change on its food prices, is the damage wrought by peak oil. Egypt was a small exporter of oil. Its oil has now run dry, and to get the energy it needs, for the first time, Egypt has to import oil.

And, as the World’s oil supply remains essentially flat, and some nations climb out of depression, that puts pressure on oil prices, which have an effect on food prices. If we had not discovered oil, we would never have been able to grow to 7 billion on this finite planet. Oil underpins nearly all large-scale food production.

Put together Egypt’s crop failure due to climate change, and oil depletion due to peak oil, and stir in too many people – Egypt’s population is rising at 2% a year – and you have the exact problem that the rest of world will soon face in microcosm.

Image: Virtual Jerusalem

More on Middle East-North Africa fragility:

Rising Food Prices Behind Riots in Algeria and Tunisia
Climate Change Killing the First Crops in the Cradle of Civilization
Egypt To Grab Sudanese Land To Meet Its Wheat Needsegypt

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