Egypt was one of the birthplaces of civilization, and the Nile River valley was probably the route that humans used to come out of Africa and begin to walk all over the world. Not a lot has been heard about or from Egypt until very recently, when that country "caught" the "Tunisian Twitter Bug". Suddenly (at least to those of us in the Western World) things long buried (like the fact that the majority of Egyptians were experiencing a decline in their standard of living, while a small percentage were living larger than ever) all of a sudden came to a head, and were no longer tolerable to the vast majority of Egyptians. Some new forms of communication (Twitter, texting, Facebook, and probably some old fashioned email/websites and maybe even blogs, all aided by new journalism outlets such as (but not limited to) Al Jezeera) probably aided this effort, but these modern communications systems were NOT the cause of the recent mass uprising. All these new forms communication and the volumes of it/interactions with others facilitated by these technologies do have the potential to upset the status quo. In this case, actions aimed at achieving (and not just yearning for) more democracy and doing something about the revulsion at the current ruling Kleptocracy in Egypt were catalyzed by what recently happened in Tunisia. After all, life can be messy, especially when things are so complicated and intertwined.
In my neighborhood, we went through the texting/Facebook "revolution" a few years ago, as hordes of students/young people decided to make the University Heights section of North Buffalo the "Underage Drinking Capital of Buffalo", with "Speakeasys" (illicit bars opened up in "party houses"). Facebook provided a free advertising media that allowed the 50,000 students (college and sub-urban high schoolers) and young people a way to communicate/advertise/locate "house parties", often several in any one night, and to end run local policing efforts that aimed at providing some measure of domestic tranquility. And enough came (about 4000 in one night in a community of around the same number of people) to become very noticeable. But, with fame and excessive ethanol/underage drinking/"legal" age drinking (in some cases, steroid/stimulants fueled), mostly in the service of getting laid but if that never happened, at least significant intoxication, came problems. And also came those opportunists who figured out that $1000 or more in easy money at these house parties could be grabbed and with little possibility of getting the cops called ("Hey man, somebody stole my illicit haul for the night!"). This trend ended with intense sadness via a couple of murders, as well as the end of the phony economic bubble at the termination of the George Bu$h era, sort of depriving the budding social experiment of the money needed for all this boozing/partying. And all the problems caused by mass quantities of really drunk teenagers/recently teenagers (fights, drunk driving, for example) made for a really unpleasant living arrangement for the locals during "partying season" - August through October and April through June (winter and school work load/exams/term papers intervened). And maybe those being marketed to via Facebook got bored and/or ran out of money to feed the "Partying Machine", as well as the economic recession of 2007-2011 and the associated dismal job prospects of college grads (around 20% to 30% of grads get jobs that actually require a college degree, so why spend so much money to get that degree/party when it returns so little in terms of the probability of a decent paying job?). Needless to say, the consequences of this enhanced communication can be different than what the rulers assume, or the owners of Facebook/Twitter/telecoms that benefit when their services are used (and for texting, when they charge for it).
But what is going on in Egypt is far more important than some wanna-get drunk and laid young people in North Buffalo. We don't know how this will end, but the recent events that have modern communications as a factor in them happening so fast and so significantly are going to have a major effect on world politics, and possibly the world economy. The government in Egypt has been getting out of tune with the populace, and the effect of "Free trade" has not been beneficial to most of Egypt's 80 million people. Energy prices and the recent spike in wheat prices (partly a result of the initial manifestations of Global Warming, partly Peak Oil) are much more a factor in the current demonstrations of outrage than are cellphones; but modern communications allow this to be communicated, and allow for significant dispersed organizational efforts to spring up really fast. One wonders why it doesn't happen in this country; after all, the U.S. has a significantly more unfair society (income and wealth mal-distribution) as measured by the Gini coefficient - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient - (US = 40.8% ) than does Egypt (= 34.4%), Sweden (23%), Canada (32.6%) or Denmark (24.7%). A higher Gini value denotes a more unequal income distribution between (i.e. wider gap between the rich and the vast majority of the population). Who knows, maybe the WORLDWIDE problem of real unemployment and income/wealth mal-distribution (even if just WITHIN countries) might actually come up for discussion. Except at places like Koch U (see http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2011/1/28/939705/-Koch-U!), where billionaires are wallowing in their own wealth, fawned upon by the politicians and judges (even a couple of Supremes) that they have rented and/or bought, or who appear to be in sync with these Koch Brothers.
Egypt has a population of 80 million, and almost all are located in the Nile River valley, Nile Delta or near the coastline. The city and sub-urbs of Cairo have a population near 20 million. The average age is around 24, which is near prime reproductive age, and the average woman has three children. Since birthrate seems inversely proportional to woman's rights, well, there is not much hope to keep a stable population; on the bright side, Egypt has a lower birthrate than many countries, especially those in the Middle East. A rapidly growing population, widespread present unemployment (especially youth unemployment) and very little arable land (basically the Nile is the main water source) are also not a good combination. So is a rapidly declining oil and natural gas supply.
Until recently, oil exports provided about 12% of GDP, and income from oil exports paid for imports of all kinds of stuff, including wheat, a mainstay of their food supply. However, a rising population and rising per capita oil/energy usage and a stable oil production means that they are a classic example of what is called the Export Land Model (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Export_Land_Model), where the transition from oil exporter to oil importer can happen quite fast unless that country behaves like Norway, excessively taxes oil consumption and uses/distributes the proceeds of oil exports fairly (Norway exports about 3 million bbls/oil per day, and has the highest oil consumption taxes in the world). Norway also has a very stable population, numbers wise, averaging 0.33%/yr (with lots of this coming from immigration), while Egypt has a population growth rate of 2%/yr (see http://www.indexmundi.com/egypt/population_growth_rate.html).
The problem is best seen in the following graph, and as discussed in the following excellent article from The Oil Drum (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7425):
Just when oil prices are again surging (which could aid export income efforts considerably), the supply of oil available to export has shrunk dramatically. In order pay for imported goods (like cellphones, telecommunication equipment, cars, etc), more exports will be required, and in a world awash in produced goods and services but lacking DEMAND, that is extremely unlikely. Another major source of money is remittances (Egyptians who work elsewhere, like Saudi Arabian oilfields/refineries, and return some of their pay to families back home), but in a world awash in unemployed people (Pakistan, Indonesia, for example), that avenue does not look promising.
And what happens when once again, Egypt becomes an oil IMPORTER? That should be really soon, and when that occurs, Egypt will start to bleed money bigtime, and the income of most Egyptians will probably drop even faster (after the rich take their cut). Next, the price of wheat is also skyrocketing (for this year, due to last year's Russian drought/fires, and continuing Australian droughts). In the U.S., until recently, more money could be obtained from corn/ethanol/DDGS. Wheat also requires significant ammonia inputs (that's what puts the amino in amino acids, and amino acids are what proteins are made of), and ammonia prices (often coal or natural gas sourced) have been spiking lately (up by a factor of 3 in two years); wheat is a major protein source for many in the Middle East. In fact, most commodities and manufactured goods with a significant commodity cost input have been going up at a fast pace of late.
Egypt will need to find home grown energy sources, fast, as its fossil fuel sources are maxed out and soon to be tapped out. But, in addition to a vast solar resource (expensive, but then much of Egypt is desert, and located very near the equator), it also turns out that it has very impressive wind resources - both on and offshore. Here is a source describing these resources - http://www.windatlas.dk/egypt/download/wind%20atlas%20for%20egypt%20paper%20(menarec3).pdf. And the wind map (topographic and wind maps in the article, too):
The best wind resources are located on the western shore of the Gulf of Suez, and in the northern part of the Red Sea/southern part of the Sinai peninsula. There are also two huge sections on either side of the Nile Valley (but not in the valley) south of Cairo, located on some uplifted lands/plateaus. Those Gulf of Suez winds are often in excess of 11 m/s average wind speeds at 50 meter heights - truly awesome values. Egypt has 430 MW of currently operating wind farms, all located near Zafarana (projects 1 through 8), in prime Gulf of Suez coastline wind territory. This country has more wind installed wind turbine capacity than any other country on the continent of Africa At those wind speeds, medium sized wind turbines on relatively low towers can produce some of the best outputs in the world. Of course, it is really hot, and there is the sand problem - the sandstorms are not good on wind turbine blades (erosion big time). But net outputs can be in excess of 50% of the rated output given those average wind speeds. And repairs are just another job to do...
Next, there is the storage of electricity problem. For this, the use of ocean water pumped hydroelectric facilities would be ideal, especially since there is a significant hill/small mountain range located next to the Red Sea/Gulf of Suez. Using ocean water in lined ponds on top of some of those hills would not affect the water supplies from the Nile, since evaporation is a major problem. In some cases, pumped hydro storage ponds can be hollowed out of those hills/small mountains, and thus those evaporation losses could be avoided altogether.
Another possibility is the use of solar heat to evaporate water from ocean water ponds (maybe in conjunction with those pumped hydro storage ponds). This water could then flow by gravity to the population centers along the Nile Valley (also making electricity in the process). The water obtained by solar evaporation could also be used to grow that wheat so desperately needed.
Anyway, those projects would require significant capital, but would free Egypt from the need to do more food imports, and any energy imports. The country is full of educated people, and being allowed to do something that makes the world a better place AND a paycheck would be quite nifty, and highly desired. And evidently a fair number of rich people, intent on not investing in their own country, and instead behaving like rich people most everywhere. They could even use some of that electricity to make ammonia from wind energy, ocean water and air (water electrolysis, nitrogen from air). This could produce a huge number of jobs just doing all that design/civil construction (pumped hydro, ocean water evaporation), and with enough orders for wind turbines, some or most could be supplied by local manufacturing. After all, average wind speeds of 10 m/s or more that can be seen on large scale maps means that Egypt could easily power up wind wind, and survive the transition from an oil based one to a renewable one. This would also take the pressure off of the Nile River (hydroelectricity, irrigation water); Global Warming will result in a smaller water flow. And since a large fraction of Egypt's population will get flooded out if the Greenland icesheet collapses (Alexandria, Cairo, Suez), well, it would be smart to work on not accelerating that process.
As to the population problem (analogy of the Old Woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn't know what to do...), well one could only hope that Women's Liberation comes sweeping across THAT nation (apologies to Frank Zappa for that line) before someone takes Monty Python's too many kids solution as something other than satire. One other fact to remember is that as the standard of living in a country rises, the birth rates tend to drop. And a massive effort at initially tapping the lowest cost renewable energy resource in Egypt would do wonders for that country. As to tapping that solar furnace in the center of that country, well, PV tends to be expensive, especially if the PV systems are mostly manufactured elsewhere. It could be that solar thermal sites along the Mediterranean Sea (using that as the coolant) would also be a smart idea. But one thing is for sure - relying on oil and natural gas on leads to a future of economic decline.
And that is also a lesson that applies to the United States. It would also be nice if we got wise, used our awesome wind resource, and cut down on our measure of inequality (Gini value). Odds are, lowering that Gini value can't be done without a massive manufacturing effort of renewable energy systems.
Saturday History: “Remember the Sabbath…”
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