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nettime's avid reader on Mon, 7 Feb 2011 13:58:15 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Egyptian and Tunisian riots were driven in part by the spike in global food prices





=46ood prices were driven up by extreme weather and high oil prices
January 30, 2011

http://climateprogress.org/2011/01/30/egyptian-tunisian-riots-food-prices-
extreme-weather-and-high-oil-prices/

Political unrest has broken out in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab=20
countries. Social media and governmental policies are getting most of the=20
credit for spurring the turmoil, but there=E2=80=99s another factor at play.
Many of the people protesting are also angry about dramatic price hikes for=
=20
basic foodstuffs, such as rice, cereals, cooking oil and sugar.
That=E2=80=99s from the NPR story today, =E2=80=9CRising Food Prices Can To=
pple=20
Governments, Too.=E2=80=9D

This summer=E2=80=99s extreme global weather raised fears of a =E2=80=9CCom=
ing Food=20
Crisis,=E2=80=9D as CAP=E2=80=99s John D. Podesta and Jake Caldwell warned =
in Foreign=20
Policy:  =E2=80=9CGlobal food security is stretched to the breaking point, =
and=20
Russia=E2=80=99s fires and Pakistan=E2=80=99s floods are making a bad situa=
tion worse.=E2=80=9D =20
Earlier this month I discussed how, in fact, =E2=80=9CExtreme weather event=
s helped=20
drive food prices to record highs.=E2=80=9D  Back then, experts were worrie=
d about=20
food riots.  Now they are happening.

UPDATE:  The anti-science, pro-pollution crowd are going flat-earth over=20
this post because I point out that leading political experts say the Middle=
=20
East rioting is driven in part by the dramatic rise in food prices, which=20
the agricultural experts say is driven in large part by oil prices and the=
=20
extreme weather we=E2=80=99ve seen in the last few months.  Of course, the =
climate=20
science experts have been saying for a while now that the extreme weather=20
is driven in large part by human emissions =E2=80=94 see Terrific ABC News =
story:=20
=E2=80=9CRaging Waters In Australia and Brazil Product of Global Warming=E2=
=80=9D and=20
Munich Re: =E2=80=9CThe only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-=
related=20
catastrophes is climate change.=E2=80=9D  See also Russian President Medved=
ev:=20
=E2=80=9CWhat is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this g=
lobal=20
climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather=20
conditions in the past.=E2=80=9D =E2=80=94 NYT: =E2=80=9CRussia Bans Grain =
Exports After Drought=20
Shrivels Crop=E2=80=9D  I have some more comments on this at the end, but t=
he=20
analysis as written here stands.

The Washington Post reported on the connection between food prices and=20
Tunisian  violence in mid-January, in a piece headlined, =E2=80=9CSpike in =
global=20
food prices contributes to Tunisian violence=E2=80=9D:

The state of emergency in Tunisia has economists worried that we may be=20
seeing the beginnings of a second wave of global food riots. Battered by=20
bad weather and increasing demand from the developing world, the global=20
food supply system is buckling under the strain.

This month, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that=
=20
its food price index jumped 32 percent in the second half of 2010 =E2=80=94=
=20
surpassing the previous record, set in the early summer of 2008, when=20
deadly clashes over food broke out around the world, from Haiti to=20
Somalia=E2=80=A6.

The price of grains began to rise last fall after fires in Russia wiped out=
=20
hundreds of thousands of acres of grains and heavy rain destroyed much of=20
Canada=E2=80=99s wheat crop. The problems were followed by hot, dry weather=
 in=20
Argentina that devastated the soybean crop of the key exporter. This month,=
=20
floods in Australia destroyedmuch of the country=E2=80=99s wheat crop.

Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on Thursday vowed to reduce the=
=20
price of staples such as sugar, milk and bread, but the pledge wasn=E2=80=
=99t=20
enough to placate the thousands of protesters who mobbed the capital,=20
Tunis, on Friday to demand his ouster. The country=E2=80=99s prime minister=
,=20
Mohammed Ghannouchi, has appeared on state TV to announce he is assuming=20
power.

See also the 1-15-11 Guardian story, =E2=80=9CJordanians protest against so=
aring=20
food prices:  Protesters angry over high food costs and unemployment call=20
for the prime minister to step down, in an echo of Tunisian=20
demonstrations.=E2=80=9D

And then we have Egypt.

Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House, was interviewed at Davos=20
(click here) and saidthe Egyptian riots =E2=80=9Cwere driven partly of cour=
se by=20
the rise of food prices.=E2=80=9D

NPR had a long story on the subject today, =E2=80=9CRising Food Prices Can =
Topple=20
Governments, Too=E2=80=9D (quoted at the top), which notes: Rising prices a=
re=20
=E2=80=9Cleading to riots, demonstrations and political instability,=E2=80=
=9D New York=20
University economics professor Nouriel Roubini said during a panel=20
discussion. =E2=80=9CIt=E2=80=99s really something that can topple regimes,=
 as we have seen=20
in the Middle East.=E2=80=9D

And, the Davos experts warn, higher prices could hurt consumers and derail=
=20
the economic recoveries under way in wealthier countries.

In large part, the food-price crisis reflects the simple law of supply and=
=20
demand.The supply of food has been diminished by bad weather in many=20
crucial crop-growing areas of the world. Russia, Ukraine and Argentina have=
=20
had severe droughts, while Pakistan and Australia have had massive=20
flooding.At the same time, demand for food has been rising as people in=20
fast-developing countries, such as India and China, have been buying more=20
groceries.

In addition, production and transportation costs have been driven up by the=
=20
rising price of oil.

Energy insecurity and climate instability have now become key factors in=20
food insecurity, which in turn has become a key factor in toppling=20
governments.  And that=E2=80=99s without even considering the impact of the=
 nation=20
and the world=E2=80=99s wildly counterproductive strategy of growing crop-b=
ased=20
biofuels (see =E2=80=9CAre biofuels a core climate solution?=E2=80=9D and =
=E2=80=9CLet them eat=20
biofuels!=E2=80=9D and =E2=80=9C=E2=80=9CThe Fuel on the Hill =E2=80=94 The=
 Corn Supremacy=E2=80=9C).
It=E2=80=99s hard to see how oil prices won=E2=80=99t keep rising, absent a=
nother deep=20
global economic downturn (see World=E2=80=99s top energy economist warns: =
=E2=80=9CWe have=20
to leave oil before oil leaves us and  German military study warns of peak=
=20
oil crisis and Peak oil production coming sooner than expected).

And the extreme weather we are seeing is only going to get worse.  The=20
country=E2=80=99s top climatologist, NASA=E2=80=99s James Hansen, recently =
explained:
Given the association of extreme weather and climate events with rising=20
global temperature, the expectation of new record high temperatures in 2012=
=20
also suggests that the frequency and magnitude of extreme events could=20
reach a high level in 2012. Extreme events include not only high=20
temperatures, but also indirect effects of a warming atmosphere including=20
the impact of higher temperature on extreme rainfall and droughts. The=20
greater water vapor content of a warmer atmosphere allows larger rainfall=20
anomalies and provides the fuel for stronger storms driven by latent heat.
It=E2=80=99s likely half the years this decade will be hotter and more extr=
eme than=20
2010 =E2=80=94 and most of the years in the next decade.

=E2=80=9CBread and Circuses=E2=80=9D (panem et circenses) is the Roman phra=
se denoting the=20
superficial effort of maintaining public approval through cheap food and=20
entertainment.  When the food isn=E2=80=99t cheap, though, the strategy col=
lapses,=20
perhaps along with the entire global Ponzi scheme.

Those who think that the serious impacts of climate change =E2=80=94 and ou=
r inane=20
energy policies =E2=80=94 on the world economy and U.S. national security a=
re=20
decades away are simply not paying attention.

UPDATE:  The climate ostriches at NewsBusters =E2=80=94 and anti-science ex=
tremist=20
Michelle Malkin=E2=80=94 have actually attacked this post for daring to sug=
gest=20
that climate change plays any role whatsoever in the higher food prices=20
that numerous experts say are contributing to the unrest.  The point, of=20
course, is not that global warming is causing the unrest or that there=20
aren=E2=80=99t major underlying causes.

The question is why specifically now have the Egyptians and Tunisians=20
rioted after decades of anti-democratic rule?  Certainly one can ignore the=
=20
experts and say that it is a complete coincidence that the rioting occurred=
=20
as food prices hit record levels =E2=80=94 in spite of the fact that the la=
st time=20
there was this kind of rioting globally food prices were at record levels,=
=20
which is precisely why experts were predicting that record hide food prices=
=20
would lead to riots.  Now the question is, why are food prices are at=20
record levels?  Again, reality pretty much speaks for itself here.  Extreme=
=20
weather is a major contributing factor =E2=80=94 and our top climate scient=
ists say=20
global warming has contributed.




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