It Comes Back to Food and Energy...Again

Stuart Staniford has a terrific piece that offers a little visual clarity about food, energy, unemployment and the Riots in the Middle East and North Africa:

Tunisia is a minnow in the global oil market, Egypt slightly more important. Algeria, however, matters a lot as its oil production is probably close to total demonstrated OPEC spare capacity. Thus serious social instability in Algeria would have major effects on global oil prices. If instability spread to bigger oil producers than that (eg Kuwait or UAE), the effects could be very dramatic.

Presumably, the regimes in those countries are in a much better position to buy their populations off, being much wealthier. I must admit to feeling slightly dirty writing that sentence. Staring at this list of countries makes clear what we already know: about a third of global oil production comes from this array of nasty autocratic regimes, and thus the global economy is utterly dependent on their continued stability.

What Staniford always does best is lend clarity to discussions by simply pulling up the relevant information and putting it into useful visual form. This is well worth a read.

If you'd like my own thoughts, which in some ways aren't that different from Staniford's, you can see my latest Peak Oil Review Commentary piece here. I find myself wondering whether the protests in the Middle East might inspire anger and a move to protest here, even at the same time as potential oil and food price shocks may change our circumstances for the worse:

Indeed, it is worth asking whether the protests in the Middle East might not bring about protests even in the US, spreading outwards from Cairo to Khartoum to Chicago and Los Angeles and Boston. Many commentators have wondered at most Americans' calm acceptance of high unemployment, foreclosure, and poverty rates, and been surprised that we have accepted this, rather than taking to the streets. A major oil and market shock, however, along with the daily sight of people abroad risking more than we are fighting to transform their nations might finally awaken American anger. After all, Americans are suffering in many ways from the same ills that the people of Tunisia and Egypt and the other nations are enduring: a failure to share in what few gains have been made; a sense of frustration with their own impoverishment; a betrayal by those who were supposed to have tried to make things better; no jobs; no sense of the future. It seems unlikely that the fragile economic stability that has convinced people that things are maybe, possibly, finally getting a little better could endure rapidly rising energy prices.

This, of course, is speculation, as is almost everything at this point. Overnight the world changed, and no one has fully grasped this. That is perhaps the most critical point of all: that overnight the underlying assumptions of our world can turn on a dime; that our expectations that the world will work a particular way can be overturned by ordinary people who say "no more, it must change"; and that the underlying illusion of control that we have used as a nation to justify every sort of moral compromise and on which we have built an entire oil-consuming society was, in the end, nothing more than a lie we told ourselves.


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Gail Tverberg has up a chart showing that Egypt's oil consumption has just caught up with its production -- no more exports. With 80 million to feed and not enough land in production, there is suddenly no money for importing groceries. OPEC's -- and everyone's -- Achilles heel suddenly comes into focus. Becoming a democracy -- or becoming an Islamist republic -- will not solve the food issues. They're up against a lot, and, yes, you're right, so are we.

Egypt's unrest is significant for the oil supply because so many oil tankers pass through the Suez canal.

The largest tankers going to the U.S. go south around Africa (they don't fit in the canal). But most of Europe's mideast oil imports are shipped through the canal.

well, we're not rising up and taking to the streets, because being bad off in America in still way better than bad off in Africa, or India, or any other country where poverty is life threatening. Poverty in America still gets you a living space, tv, an xbox, etc... Seriously, whenever I talk to tech support based in India, I feel like a giant A-hole. I feel stupid explaining my petty problem to someone who lives around conditions most people here couldn't fathom.

If, as Sri Aurobindo put it, "evolution is Nature's yoga", then humanity is simply an instrument of the evolutionary process. As such, upon what criteria can one make the assumption that humanity has made a "mistake?" Humanity as a whole, as a species, certainly does NOT have free will (and it is open to question if "free will" actually exists on an individual level either).

And so we can regard the exploitation of fossil fuels as a stage in the evolutionary process, the point being that humanity is still at a larval, fetal stage of development and is poised to make a quantum jump to a whole higher level of functioning.

We know, we have the experiential and experimental evidence, that human beings can spiritually evolve light-years beyond our present level of functioning. Whether or not this will happen on this planet at this time, I dont know, but we do know that this is but one planet in one galaxy, and is hardly the whole story.

There is however, a spiritual revolution going on - an evolutionary mutation if you will - and as such, there is a deep spiritual component to what is happening on this planet. The idea of "tikkun olam" is one way of looking at this spiritual mutation.

Yes, I see the writing on the wall, but I am not going to write-off the Divine because I also see the manifestation of tremendous spiritual power in our world, a power that will blow away the puny human conceptual mind and put the adolescent human ego in its proper place. Without this spiritual revolution, we would indeed slide toward a dark age and self-destruction.

But with this emerging spiritual mutation, there is a possibility that we can indeed remake this world. All the great spiritual teachings have proclaimed the fact that we can all directly experience that God, Nature and humanity are all One in Love and Light. The price of admission? The complete surrender of the narcissistic, separative ego.

I have to agree with Waydude, that being poor in the US is no where near as harrowing as being poor in many other places (although I notice that much of the protest in Egypt is being coordinated by cell phone...maybe they are using last year's models?). However, I suspect that more is going on than just the relative "ease" of being poor in the US.

I suspect that "Americans" (meaning citizens of the US, although, of course, the Americas extend from Canada to Cape Horn) are still suffering (?) from the belief that "anyone can make it in America." (And if it can be taken away from those who have already "made it," what is to stop someone from taking it away from you, when you make yours.)

I would guess that this particular delusion has never been a large part of the cultures of the Middle East.

The american people still have their bread and circuses. I can't see it happening yet just because Egypt has done it.

the point being that humanity is still at a larval, fetal stage of development and is poised to make a quantum jump to a whole higher level of functioning.

Or not. Your argument was unfortunately voided by your incorrect usage of the word "quantum".

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 31 Jan 2011 #permalink

6. sudden and significant: a quantum increase in productivity.

Evolution of language by common use bites stickler directly upon his buttock. Reasonably effective communication continues otherwise.

News at 11.

Those who warned of this years ago were called "alarmists", treated like Chicken Littles talking about the sky falling.

There are no alarmists, only realists who can count. And nobody was saying the sky was falling, the warning was about the roof caving in and how ripping out the walls for firewood would cause that to happen.

We're hearing the first creaks and groans of collapse, of everything crashing down on our heads. The idiots with crowbars aren't paying any attention except to hand out more crowbars so more wood can be burnt.

You don't have to tear out all the wood in the walls before the roof collapses, you know. The collapse will come when there's not enough left to support the demand or maintain the structure.


If our being 20 times better off than the rest of the world didn't stop the boomers from taking to the streets in the 60s and 70s, I don't think that our new embarassment about our own egotism is likely the limiting factor now ;-).


After all, Americans are suffering in many ways from the same ills that the people of Tunisia and Egypt and the other nations are enduring

Huh? Not even close...

Appreciation for the daily round of insight, but I like Joseph's big picture view too, above. This transition is part of an evolutionary process and there is a wider context in which we're growing and learning. And yes, this is the crunch time as we see our interdependence, our mutual vulnerability . . . and by our I mean all us humans.

I don't think this is just a curiosity this view. Each individual needs a big picture, or works with one in their own heart and mind; if it's dog eat dog, then that's what we'll do. If it's get through this together, that's what we'll work for. Having a service orientation helps. Helps sleep at night, and just helps.