GOOD

Forget Facebook, Did Peak Oil Bring Down Mubarak?

Egypt has an oil problem that will still be there after the celebration ends. What can a new government do to fix it?


Let me start by saying what I'm not saying: I am not making the blanket case here that peak oil brought down Mubarak. I also don't want to rain on the truly joyous and historic events taking place in Egypt. It was an astonishing example of the power of the people, a type of broad-based, pure, honest movement that crossed lines of class and religion.

But I do want to raise the question of oil's role in creating the economic conditions for the uprising, and the concern that Egypt's oil woes aren't going away.


Plenty of interconnected causes are being cited for the revolution and most of them have merit. Longstanding suppression of public dissent; chronic fear of the regime and police; severe economic inequality; a fountainhead state-run media; water shortages; food shortages; a rapidly declining oil reserve. It's hard to tell where some of these end and others begin.

But I think it's fairly uncontroversial to say that the dire economic conditions most Egyptians live under was a major factor. And oil's role in creating the macroeconomic conditions in Egypt cannot be denied. Chris Martenson of the Post Carbon Institute makes a very strong case that—largely because of dwindling oil reserves—the pressures have been building in Egypt for some time now, and that, unfortunately, this political revolution isn't going to address some much deeper troubles.

Martenson shares these two revealing charts:


Egypt's oil production peaked in 1996, and has declined steadily since.

Because of falling oil production and rising consumption in Egypt, as of 2007, the country has been a net oil importer. Martenson writes:

Without persistent (and rising) food imports, Egypt cannot feed itself. It has managed to cover up the shortfall by having enough oil to export, but, like every country, their oil reserves are finite and eventually they'll face a day of reckoning...Any country that has to import both oil and food is living on borrowed time. It was only a matter of time before something gave way, and apparently that time is now.

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Egypt, obviously, isn't the only country facing such a dire natural capital calculus. Martenson:

The future of Egypt will be shaped by these few biophysical facts—a relentless form of math that is hardly unique to Egypt, by the way—and it matters very little who is in power.

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Martenson is right that the "biophysical facts" present Egypt with an energy problem that will continue to strain society. But it does matter who is in power. The right leaders can recognize the futility of depending on oil exports to fund the nation's growth and well-being.

So what possibly could a new government do to ensure stability and economic prosperity—sustainable economic prosperity—for all Egyptians? They might want to take a good hard look at the vast swaths of desert and another natural resource that the nation has in abundance: sunlight. Two massive solar project proposals for the Sahara Desert jump to mind. With the Desertec project, European companies are already angling to set up a network of concentrated solar plants across Northern Africa to provide electricity throughout Europe. Meanwhile, the Sahara Solar Breeder Project wants to capture the Sahara's sun and use the desert's sand to produce photovoltaic panels, and more power.

Egypt's next leaders should make their nation an integral part of these plans, and work to develop their own solar industry as well. Not only will an Egyptian solar industry provide cheap energy throughout the country, it could also create hundreds of thousands of jobs—and might even save the job of Egypt's next president one day.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user masterplaan

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This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

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As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

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Perez claims he was responding to insults hurled at him by the officers. The police say that Perez was picking a fight. The altercation left Perez with a broken nose, scrapes, swelling, and bruises from his hips to his shoulder.

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