We have all been reading about Egypt in the newspapers, and wonder what is behind their problems. Let me offer a few insights.
At least part of Egypt’s problem is the fact that in the past the government has threatened to reduce food subsidies. Now it is planning to hold food subsidies level and raise energy subsidies, but it is not clear that the dollar amount of subsidy will be enough. The government is taking steps to make food and energy affordable for most, but there is worry that the steps being taken will not be enough.
Egypt’s Declining Financial Situation
There is a good reason why one might expect Egypt to start running into problems with energy and food subsidies. Its own financial situation is declining at the same time that the cost of food imports is soaring. If we look at a graph of Egyptian oil imports, exports, and consumption (using a graph from Energy Export Databrowser, which graphs BP Statistical Data), we find that Egypt’s oil use has been rising rapidly, at the same time the amount extracted each year is declining.
Starting about 2010 or 2011, Egypt will change from an oil exporting nation to an oil importing nation, if there are imports available on the world market. The catch is that Egypt isn’t the only one with declining oil production–world oil production has been approximately flat since 2005, and the countries that produce the oil are using more and more of it themselves. The result is that there is less oil available for export, even as countries like Egypt need more.
The oil that Egypt exports provides funds for the subsidies that it offers, so reduced exports mean less funds are available for subsidies. Egypt has recently been able to ramp up natural gas exports, and these exports have allowed subsidies to remain in place.
If a person looks closely at the green portion of the graph, natural gas exports have been fairly flat since 2005. It sounds like they can be expected to remain relatively flat, too, because according to the US Energy Information Administration:
Given increasing domestic demand, combined with popular pressures in recent years against LNG and gas export contracts (particularly with Israel), the oil minister declared in mid-2008 that no new gas export contracts would be made.
So Egypt is still getting some export revenue from hydrocarbons, (and just as importantly, tax revenue related to the export revenue), but the natural gas amount is likely close to flat, and the amount from oil exports has gone to zero. Egypt subsidizes both oil and natural gas sales internally, so it is likely that the government is not getting much revenue related to be portion that is used for internal consumption. In fact, it may very well be a net loser on the part that is used internally because of its subsidies–revenue on exports is supposed to make up the difference. If Egypt needs to actually purchase oil from abroad in the future, its expenses can be expected to go up significantly.
Other Budget Pressures
Based on information from the CIA World Fact Book, Egypt was already significantly overspending its revenue in 2009 (the last year available), with revenues of $46.82 billion and expenditures of $64.19 billion. For 2010, the Factbook reports government debt amounting to 80.5% of GDP, putting its debt level far above that of most other African and Arab nations.
If Egypt’s oil production is down, follow-on industries like refining and chemical products are likely down as well, making it difficult to increase revenues from these sources, or to obtain additional taxes related to the spending of workers in these industries. The Suez Canal is one of Egypt’s sources of revenues, but with world oil exports down, revenues from it are likely dropping as well.
Cutbacks in oil production and in Suez Canal transport can be expected to exacerbate unemployment problems. The Egyptian unemployment rate was listed at 9.7% in 2010 by the CIA World Factbook.
Egypt has a history of a fairly egalitarian approach to distribution of income. In 2001, the CIA Factbook lists its GINI coefficient as 34.4%, which is near that of the United Kingdom, and much better than, say, that of the US. But in recent years, the CIA Factbook says
Cairo from 2004 to 2008 aggressively pursued economic reforms to attract foreign investment and facilitate GDP growth.
These economic reforms likely raised the income of some people, but not of everyone, creating a wider gap between the rich and poor. This may lie behind reports of concerns by the poor that they are falling farther behind economically. With the county’s history of a more even income distribution and the recent rise in food prices, this rising income inequality may be becoming more of an issue.
Need for Food Imports
Egypt’s population has been growing rapidly (estimated at 2% per year by the CIA World Fact Book – about 3.0 children per woman), but the population is concentrated in a narrow strip along the Nile River. (Graph from Population Databrowser.)
As population grows, the amount of land needed for housing and businesses rises, and the amount of land for agriculture falls. So Egypt can produce less of its own food, as time goes on.
Egypt is reported to be the world’s largest importer of wheat. In 2010, the oil minister stated that Egypt imports 40% of its food, and 60% of its wheat. The problem this year is that world wheat production is down (at least in part due to weather problems in Russia) so world exports are down:
A longer term problem, though, is that world wheat production has not been growing to keep up with growing world population. Part of this lack of growth may be competition from biofuels. Part of the lack of growth also relates to the fact that the “green revolution” improvements (adding irrigation and fertilizer) are mostly behind us. While irrigation and fertilizer greatly improved production at the time of the change, gains in production since 1990 have been much smaller.
The cost of imported food, particularly wheat, has risen, partly because of the relatively smaller harvest, and partly because the cost of production and transport is rising because of rising oil prices. Figure 5 shows the close relationship food prices and oil prices. The Food Price Index used in this graph is the FAO’s Food Price Index related to food for export; Brent oil prices are spot prices from the EIA.
With oil prices higher now (because world production is close to flat, and as countries come out of recession, they want more), food prices of all types are higher as well. Oil is used directly in the production of grain and indirectly in storage and transit, so its cost becomes important.
The higher food prices contribute to the overall inflation problem that Egypt already had. In 2010, the CIA Factbook estimated the inflation rate to be 12.8%. Since wages don’t always rise to match inflation rates, inflationary pressures have no doubt put more pressure on the government to increase subsidies, at a time it cannot really afford to do so.
Impact on the Rest of the World
Why does everyone else respond so strongly to Egypt’s problems?
One reason is that other Arab countries are also feeling some of the same pressures. Food prices are rising everywhere. Many low income people spend in excess of 50% of their income for food, so a rise in food costs becomes a real issue. People have come to depend on oil and food subsidies. If they are taken away, or not raised sufficiently to compensate for the higher costs of imports, it is a real problem.
Oil prices seem to be affected as well. If the Suez Canal should be closed because of disruptions, it could affect oil transit, particularly to Europe. According to the EIA:
An estimated 1.0 million bbl/d of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed northbound through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea in 2009, while 0.8 million bbl/d travelled southbound into the Red Sea.
The amounts being transported through the Suez canal are now likely down a little from these amounts in 2011, because of reduced imports/exports worldwide, but they are still substantial. Europe’s oil imports are about 10 million barrels a day of oil, according to Energy Export Data Browser (using BP’s data). If all of the amounts that flowed northbound went to Europe, they would amount to about 10% of Europe’s imports, or about 7% of Europe’s consumption. In fact, some of these exports go farther–in particular to the US, or to Canada, so the amount in question is probably lower than this relative to Europe’s consumption, say 4% or 5%. But even a small shortfall is a problem, in a world that needs oil for transport, food production, heating, and many other uses.
The inability to send products southbound through the Suez Canal is likely to also be a problem. Part of what Europe does is refine oil, keep the products it needs, and send other products to customers elsewhere. The whole system is set up assuming close to “just-in-time” production and delivery. While there is some storage capability, after a few days or weeks the system is likely to start running into problems. Those in need of the refined products being sent southward through the Suez Canal will be in need of them, and Europe will have excess supply. Of course, it is possible to use longer shipping routes, but this uses more oil for shipping and takes longer, so is more expensive. There is also a time-delay when the new system is put in place.
All of these problems (relating to both north and south-bound oil traveling through the Suez) can be worked around, but there could be a period of disruption for a while, as supplies begin traveling a longer route.
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see this for clear info
From this article,will you agree following things to save our future generations….
1.Instead of increasing the number factories and business centre.Every country should encourage forming products and farmers to increase the amount of necessary commodities.
2.Can we start to stop using luxury products like car……etc.
3.Can we start to encourage vegetarian foods
4.We need to find some substiution for oil products…
Canary in the mine. National Geographic current issue “7 billion population tripping point” . Supply and demand for strategic resources. The different national populations need to get serious about the people they allow to run the financial affairs for their country . The people currently in charge are living out their fathers’ mindsets derived from the mid 1800’s. They have not a clue to a reality of depleting supply. We need to get and act smart quick to pinch off our collective glutenous
behaviour. We know how to conduct wars. This is just another kind of war.
Another kind of enemy we have never met face to face. Ourselves. This enemy , is the one we must perform , really perform , a kind of scrupulous ‘ jihad ‘ upon. We
and our wanton demands , childlike in their ambivalence, may be our undoing (civilisationwise). Whatever it takes, countries must get the right people in charge, and not the sharks, to secure financial security and balance and hold them accountable, with each other and with their respective populations. We never thought we would see it, but it’s tweeting the canary call ((“you’re strangling me”!))
We never thought we’d see the end of the never-ending supply from nature.
Are you up for the battle for your life?
Will you , whatever your private beliefs may be, cooperate as humanity, or succumb to the exuberance of the “industrialness”? Action , not hopes, or wishes , nor
philosophical theories will torch the dragon. Knowing what to do is in the doing of it. The solution is hidden in the problem. We are only ankle deep now. Wadeing is not a solution. Materiality does have a reachable limit. It’ a big freight train
and we are chewing gum having a gay olde time , walking on the train tracks directly toward our oncoming destiny (civilizationwise). No joke. Get over ourself.
Just do it! (I wake myself every day with these thoughts, then walk the hard road
of action and application. At the end of the day I recount, and discover my real unvarnished truth, What an adventure….. ‘gee whiz’, I’ve lived.)
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great article – one thing i might also note, in addition to the very pertinent problems you have pointed up. the Federal Reserve’s flooding the world with USD, through POMO and other actions, seems to be causing rampant inflation in pegged currencies. if countries de-peg, then overnight, their export products become much less attractive to US importers. if they choose to remain pegged, then they face domestic revolt. i believe that flat to declining world energy is the keystone of our troubles (and Egypt’s) but the effect of the Federal Reserves actions should not be underestimated, in this perfect storm…
thanks again – nice work 🙂
It is worse than that. Because there is immediate impact in depegging, since many individuals and businesses in those countries borrowed in US $’s, but are paid in a local currency. Their 1,000 peso monthly payment can double overnight. This happened in Iceland just recently (based on EU’s) and “eastern europe” based on borrowing in swiss francs and EU’s.
This is what happened in Argentina when the IMF pulled out in November 2001, the immediate effect created chaos/anarchy in that country.
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Hi Gail. Once again, a fantastic post and relevant as always. To whom has Egypt been exporting to mainly?
The oil exports are mostly going away, but they have been to Europe as much as anyone, as far as I can tell (based on “North Africa” information).
With respect to natural gas, apparently Jordan, Israel and Syria are some of the destinations. This article says exports are continuing to those areas as usual, despite the fighting. The EIA indicates that natural gas exports are split 70% LNG and 30% pipeline. The LNG especially would be expected to be exported to a variety of customers, perhaps as far away as Asia.
Exports to Israel have been a contentious issue. They seem to be continuing, despite litigation. One article mentioned a 20 year export contract with Israel, starting in 2005.
It may be that Egypt’s natural gas exports are already at too high a level, relative to what is being extracted and what is needed for internal consumption. Egyptoil says, “Egypt power demand has grown at 11.5% annually and the blackouts which struck across the country, including swathes of the capital for several hours a day, turned the spotlight on Egypt’s exports.” (Egypt uses natural gas to generate electric power, among other things.)
If I were an Egyptian, sitting in the dark for several hours a day, I would not be very happy about all the natural gas exports, especially the ones to Israel.
Can only agree – excellent analysis. Also, can the West afford to be smug spectators at what may prove to be unfolding Apocalypse?
Thank you very much for this excellent report about the current situation in Egypt. I kept watching the news like everyone else but just could not understand what was the exact problem.
Now my question is, if Egypt elect a much more radical party, what will happen to the US bases and also Israel? This is quiet scary as it could spark even more problems.
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Thank you Gail, that was very insightful. Interesting no one else has been talking about this cause,and it is the best explanation I have heard.
It would suggest that government subsidies directly screwed up the balance that capitalism provides. If there was no grain /food subsidy, they would not have a mini population explosion, if there was no energy subsidy, the people would have figured out an alternative. No government ministry, no person is that smart to control/plan everything. You would think the USSR,Cuba,N.Korea,Vietnam, China would have been proof enough, but some just have the mentality ” well they just didn’t do it right , we are smarter and know better”.
Of course, we have had our own subsidy, in the way of cheap oil and the transportation system that could buy. Furthermore, the belief that there will always be more and more allowed people and governments to “borrow from the future” and rack up a huge amount of debt, used to finance all kinds of other enterprises. Once growth comes to a halt because we cannot import enough oil to support the growth, it will become clear that much of that debt cannot be repaid. Then we will have problems, perhaps of the type that we are now seeing in Egypt.
I think Liebig’s Law of the Minimum is ultimately what is at issue here. It says that if any essential input for agriculture is absent, then it is not possible to grow the crop needing that input. It is also true for manufacturing, or running a restaurant, or most any other type of product or operation. What I envision is the whole system contracting to match the level of the item with the lowest available level of input. In the Middle East, this might be fresh water; in the US it might be oil. Over the long run, there may be some possibility for substitution, but it takes money and energy to, say, build new LNG gars and refueling stations, and to use those to replace some existing gasoline-powered vehicles. So in the short term, a contraction in oil supply is likely to spill over to being a contraction in the rest of the economy.
I would agree with you that the (technical) input is probably Oil for the US, but it seems that a more political/cultural issue comes first – “will”. Can a society step back from its profligate ways and create policies that allow it to live within its means.
I like the words coming out of the UK from the PM down to the sustainable communities to better ideas beyond carbon taxation. There is very little equivalent communications coming out of the US. It is scarey.
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Absolutely brilliant. I’ve been reading newspapers and watching CNN for hours and days, but there’s been almost no trace of any in-depth analyses like this. Yes, of course they are fed up with Mubarak, but is that the whole story? Of course not. Your graphs say it all.
What really worries me about the situation is not as much the suffering of the Egyptians right now as the deeper explanations that would apply to so many other countries as well. And most worrying of all, that this not a major topic in the news reports and the analyses.
The worries are just piling up. Say the Egyptians get a democratically elected president and full freedom of expression in the near future. So what? That won’t create any new sources of energy overnight, and the population numbers are still exploding. Maybe democracy even will make things worse, when there is no dictator to impose unpopular but severely needed actions?
Capitalism, democracy, and freedoms are economic and political features of a system that is growing, with surplus energy. We’re headed for a future of permanently contracting economies worldwide. As the surplus energy gets wrung out of the various economies at startlingly different rates, what will economic and political “redesign” look like?
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Proof reading not my strong suit either.
For 2011 (twin-towers) in my comment, please read 2001.
I did not mean to sound prophetic!
You did the detailed work and have covered the background that we were discussing last night in my house. Your analysis also of world grain and the old green revolution is spot on. Grain importing nations have an increasing problem.
Egypt is still rated as having a viable economy and even with a still steeply rising population (albeit entering the demographic transition) has managed to grow a significant middle class. See all those cars and flyover highways. However, they have a very large poor population. These people must subsist on staple foods, grain and lentils/beans, as they always have done . This may be good for their arteries, but they must get enough food. The overall import figure of 40% of food, a big proportion being wheat, compares and contrasts interestingly with UK, where we import something like 60% of our food, but are about 80% self-sufficient in grain for direct human consumption. We have a smaller population, only 60M, and we remain much higher up the food chain, for now at least.
A looming issue across much of N Africa and ME that you did not mention is water. This compounds the region’s agricultural issues.
Egypt has been under vicious political lockdown during the years when the economy could extract increasing utility from their own and global resources, but perhaps because of political repression were part of the background for strikes on the USA and the twin-towers, culminating in 2011. Small world. Which smallness seems to be a sub-text of your post.
Thanks for your comment! I know you have a strong background in these areas, from your guest posts on The Oil Drum called “How Might we be Fed?” Part 1 and Part 2.
Your point about water is a good one. It will be hitting countries like Saudi Arabia as well. Growing need for food imports is closely related to not having enough water to grow their own food.
This is a great article, thank you Gail.
Egypt is interesting also because of it’s role as a western ally, a thorn in the flesh of many in the region. That the fire of the unrest is spreading (or maybe even sparked instead of lets say for example Algeria or Libya etc) may have some additional reasons. Here is a bit of interesting side information.
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Are these figures in line with Jeffrey Brown’s ELM model where production declines lead to geometric declines in exports due to rising domestic consumpton?
I don’t know how they match up exactly, but I know he made some favorable comments about the post over on The Oil Drum (where the post is also up).
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Great work Gail!
It looks like there is a typo in your bio:
“My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested is finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change.”
Don’t you mean “…IN finite resources…”
I’ll look at it. Thanks for letting me know. Proofreading is not my strong suit.
or how about INfinite resources? 😉
Don’t we wish!
Net exports or not, if Hamas or Hezbollah can arrange to be puppet masters of the Muslim Brotherhood that takes over when Mubarak flees, they would have pure, unlaundered oil revenue for weapons buys. Their Holy Grail, as it were.
When the choice is weapons with which to attack Israel, or food for Egyptians, and the deciders are not Egyptian, the checks will be sent to the weapons makers.
I’m not trying to criticize you – I’m just reacting to the numerous comments on cable news channels about the concern for the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor do I have any sympathy for this group (or any religious group). I just find it sad how we can’t seem to move beyond this paradigm.
Wife and I just watched Agora – a 2009 Spanish historical drama film about Hypatia,
“a female mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in 4th century Roman Egypt. The story uses historical fiction to highlight the relationship between religion and science amidst the decline of Greco-Roman polytheism and the Christianization of the Roman empire”.
The setting is Alexandria and it portrays the brutality and ignorance of Christian mobs. Pagans, Jews and Christians manage to conspire to destroy the great library of Alexandria in their zeal to promote their respective faiths. Although the film “opened in Spain on October 9, 2009 becoming the highest grossing film of the year for that country”, it had great difficulty with distribution in the US due to its anti-Christian undertones.
So here we are, many centuries later, in the same place in the world, with a Christian nation worrying about “The Muslim Brotherhood”.
Natural resource depletion is an issue in this crisis; population growth is a big factor; inequality is certainly operative; and underlying it all is delusional religious “faith” that “clouds the minds of men”.
So does Richard Dawkins.
I am not arguing with you in this reply. But I am going to say that sadness and philosophy and decrying how religion causes problems does not man a single rampart or bomb a single enemy.
There are timeless things. Hating human nature for its willingness to go to war in pursuit of its interests is a timeless thing. And the really bad news is, so is human nature.
There’s an old Robert Heinlein story in which his more or less timeless lead character (who somehow seemed to be in all of his books) said something like “If you are powerless to change a world, and it is a world with masters and slaves, then you are immoral in choosing to be anything but a master. Such a choice condemns your children to slavery, and this would be perhaps the most immoral act a human can commit.”
When you walk on the playing field, you are there to win. It doesn’t matter if you walked on voluntarily or not.
Israel doesn’t have unalterable claim to US support. What will alter it is what is inevitable — the relentless decrease in oil production from the region. When that happens, the Israelis better leave town because no one will care about them.
Without arguing, you make a good argument 🙂 But, I’m not so sure about ramparts and bombs – “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword” kind of thing. Faith based belief systems, like everything else, are not immune to change – not everything is timeless.
But, I admit to falling prey to long term dreaming – too much listening to Carl Sagan wondering if humans can actually change their nature to prevent their own extinction.
The film about Hypatia stands much of her personal history on its head. At the heart of it is a sickening lie. Do check it out further; you’ll be enraged.
I don’t claim to be a scholar of this era, but I’m done a fair amount of reading about Hypatia – I truly stand in awe of this woman! If you are referring to the way the movie handled her death – I agree with you. Also, the movie is “Historical Fiction” and one has to keep that in mind to just enjoy the theater of it all.
When I think Egypt, I think population.
21% growth since 2000. Strewth!
You do not need an advanced degree in anything to see what happens next.
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I’m glad that you brought up the topic of population growth rates in the ME. I, too, checked the CIA Fact Book to see what Egypt’s birthrate is. It is interesting to see how it compares to Tunisia. The Tunisia fertility rate is below replacement levels at 1.7 per woman. Also the percentage of population under 14 is at 23% as compared to 33% in Egypt. Thus, the political unrest in Tunisia appears to have different causality than the unrest in Egypt.
If one looks at other ME countries, the birth rate is still high in poorer countries such as Jordan and Gaza. Surprisingly, the fertility rate in Saudia Arabia appears to be heading towards western norms with its current rate of 2.35 per woman. However, there is quite a bit of inertia in its populace with a whopping 38% of the population below the age of 14.
I originally thought about writing a more general article covering more countries, but decided that they were all different, and I would have to do more research to figure exactly how. Even with lower birth rates, I am not sure that they are all doing well in finding good jobs for their population, so there can be quite a few different issues.
Nomura produced a research report detailing the countries that would be crushed in a food crisis.
Their description of a food crisis is a prolonged price spike. They calculate the states that have the most to lose by a formula including:
* Nominal GDP per capita in USD at market exchange rates.
* The share of food in total household consumption.
* Net food exports as a percentage of GDP.
See page 27 at http://www.nomura.com/research/getpub.aspx?pid=390252. Alternate site is http://www.scribd.com/doc/37155965/Nomura-Food-09-08
Thanks! That sounds very interesting!
Exactly. Including repressive dictatorial governments, rising food insecurity, rising energy costs & rising population pressures. A very toxic mix in many ME countries.
And if social unrest hits the dictatorial House of Saud (and heaven knows there is a lot of built up resentment in the KSA) just watch the global fireworks as our main oil patch gets threatened.
This revolution started in Tunisia with the deeply sad self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi following police harassment. It may have a long long reach all the way to your local gas station.
Good post Gail. This is how a small event in a far away country with no strategic value to the world in general can topple many governments and lead to further energy insecurity on a very large scale.
You can bet this whole saga is being watched very closely at the highest levels of government around the world especially the USA & Israel.
This is a great article. I just signed up to become a member of this blog and I am glad that I did! I have read quite a few news articles relating to the uprising in Egypt, but this is the first time I have been able to gain an understanding of what is happening behind the scenes. keep up the great work!
I think the current events are matching your previous Oil Drum articles about Peak Oil ushering in a new era of permanent recessions and outright depressions that are going to get worse and worse.
The weak parts of the world, e.g. Egypt, are going to get squeezed first. The strongest, The West and China, are going to outlast the others.
I think it’s only a matter of time before you get outright resource wars as well as tribal and ethnic tensions inside the countries. The West is no longer a homogenous civilization, but deeply multicultural(and therefore deeply divided).
One final note, though, the chart on the link between oil and food prices is actually facturally wrong. No doubt the input numbers are true but if you look carefully you will notice that the oil price staple is correctly placed, beginning from zero and trending upwards.
The food prices staple on the right side of the graph, though, begins at 70 and then trends upwards.
This is a rigged graph to make the match look closer than it is. There is a deep correlation, but the two lines are not supposed to be that close. They would still have the same basic pattern but details matter and as an actuary I suppose you are aware of this kind of common ‘creative accounting'(but for graphs).
But just to add, I know the graph isn’t yours. It was just a general comment.
Overall, I’m impressed by your blog and I hope to be a regular reader(and occassional commenter).
I fixed it to put in my own graph.
Theoretically, the relationship could be of the form ax + b, where b is a constant, so the relationship shown might be right, but I kind of agree with you, it sort of overstates the predictive ability of the relationship.
This post is way cool, Gail, thanks. Your first two graphs on oil and gas exports tell it all. This is where we’re all headed, just some sooner than others. I wish everyone could view the world through this energy lens, because then maybe we would have a chance.