How Can Food Shortages And “Complexity Theory” Explain Egypt’s Crisis?

Saturday, February 5, 2011
By Paul Martin

by Debora MacKenzie
NewScientist.com
03 February 2011

Civilisation, goes an old maxim, is four meals away from barbarism – once the food deliveries stop, so does law and order. That could mean trouble for the political uprising in Egypt. It may also be what triggered it.

Scientists who study complex systems have been warning that ever-tighter coupling among the world’s finance, energy and food systems would result in waves of political instability. Some say that is now happening in the Middle East.

Better models of the complex relationships in these systems could allow us to predict the next domino to fall.

For now, they show that there are two sides to complex interdependencies: they can generate cascading change, also known as revolution, but they can also collapse. At the minute, because so many aspects of Egypt’s daily life are interlinked, the country is walking a fine line between the two.

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