[extropy-chat] A Grim Vision ...?

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Wed Apr 25 18:14:28 UTC 2007

Robert Bradbury wrote:
> On 4/9/07, *Keith Henson* <hkhenson at rogers.com 
> <mailto:hkhenson at rogers.com>> wrote:
>     Virtually all of Saudi Arabia's food is imported, swapped for
>     oil.  Anyone
>     have an idea of how many that part of the world could support
>     without food
>     imports?
> It depends upon whether they invested in desalination plants to grow 
> fresh water crops or invested in solar ponds to grow fish, shrimp, 
> etc. in salt water.  It isn't as if they *lack* sufficient sunlight to 
> feed themselves.  Indeed it is one of the world's richest countries in 
> this respect.  See [1].
When I was  stuck in Riyadh around 1984 supporting a software project I 
was a designer on I saw a bit of how things were then (when they would 
let me out of the hotel).   The standing joke was that you could tell in 
S.A. whether something was work or not.  If it was work, they would hire 
a foreigner to do it!   It did seem that all low level jobs and a great 
number of high tech ones as well were done by various immigrant laborers 
and consultants in the country for longer or shorter times.  Most of the 
management and financial level was Saudi, but not a lot else in my 
limited 2 month myopic view.   

Riyadh got all of its water from the coast 300 miles away.  Water is a 
sign of wealth in a desert culture so it was spent with abandon in 
Riyadh.   I think they have the most exotic fountains in all the 
world.   The culture was very schizoid.   S.A. build up wonderful 
housing in its cities and greatly expanded them.  It tried to lure in 
the more traditional and often nomadic Saudis to the cities and more 
modern ways.  Larger numbers refused and the new housing was running 40% 
vacant in Riyadh.  Most of the Saudis I worked with were young and 
educated in the West.  Many were very conflicted between the religious 
strictures and conservatism of their own culture and what they 
experienced in school.  But the money was really good and they played 
along.  If you went driving outside of the city at night you would see 
mercedes parked all over the desert for various liasons though.  Many 
educated Saudis flew away to Bahrain or to Bangkok on most weekends.   
Yet "chop-chop square", where old (sharia?) laws were executed 
especially ones that required the use of cutlery was alive and well.  To 
be in trouble you need to not only do something against the strictures 
but be accused by two adult males of good standing.  They tended to 
watch each other's backs.   All in all the atmosphere reminded me of a 
perpetual Baptist retreat except with less honest shenanigans.

So much of S.A.'s incredible wealth has left the country, sequestered 
abroad or simply blown by it's tremendously bloated royal class.    S.A. 
made the mistake as many have pointed out of supporting lavishly its 
religious infrastructure including very radical and fundamentalist 
elements.   Much of the excess and embezzlement of the royal class has 
been noticed.  The fundamentalists of course believe the rulers are 
hyprocrits to the faith and must be turned out so that S.A. can turn 
into much more of a theocracy than in is.     
> I suspect that the reason there is so much unemployment is that the 
> government simply has not adopted policies reflective of dealing with 
> the situation when the oil runs out.  It isn't like they couldn't 
> afford to build the plants or the ponds -- but I think the culture is 
> set up such that that work would be done by workers imported from 
> poorer countries.

A funny thing about the oil in S.A.   Before the Saudis took full 
control in 1979 the proven reserves were set by Western standard 
reporting methods to a bit over 100 billion barrels.   In 1979 Saudi 
Aramco claimed 150 billion barrels in reserves and stopped detailed 
field by field reporting.   By 1982 it had grown to 160 billion with no 
discoveries sufficient to account for it.  In 1988 the Saudis claimed a 
whopping 260 billion barrels!  Even more amazingly this figure has never 
gone down despite all the oil pumped out of S.A. since then.   Such a 
miracle!  No outside group is allowed to attempt to validate these 
"reserves".    A storm is brewing.   A great oil credibility bubble is 
likely to burst soon.   Securing abundant cheap energy to replace oil is 
species critical in the near term.

- samantha

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