Reports: Egyptian and Tunisian riots were driven in part by the spike in global food prices

Food prices were driven up by extreme weather and high oil prices

UPDATE: See “Expert consensus grows on contribution of record high food prices to Middle East unrest” and my ongoing series on “food insecurity.”  Get daily updates on climate and energy by clicking here.

Political unrest has broken out in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab countries. Social media and governmental policies are getting most of the credit for spurring the turmoil, but there’s another factor at play.

Many of the people protesting are also angry about dramatic price hikes for basic foodstuffs, such as rice, cereals, cooking oil and sugar.

Food priceThat’s from the NPR story today, “Rising Food Prices Can Topple Governments, Too.”

This summer’s extreme global weather raised fears of a “Coming Food Crisis,” as CAP’s John D. Podesta and Jake Caldwell warned in Foreign Policy:  “Global food security is stretched to the breaking point, and Russia’s fires and Pakistan’s floods are making a bad situation worse.”  Earlier this month I discussed how, in fact, “Extreme weather events helped drive food prices to record highs.”  Back then, experts were worried about food riots.  Now they are happening.

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

The Washington Post reported on the connection between food prices and Tunisian  violence in mid-January, in a piece headlined, “Spike in global food prices contributes to Tunisian violence”:

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

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

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

Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on Thursday vowed to reduce the price of staples such as sugar, milk and bread ,but the pledge wasn’t enough to placate the thousands of protesters who mobbed the capital, Tunis, on Friday to demand his ouster. The country’s prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, has appeared on state TV to announce he is assuming power.

See also the 1-15-11 Guardian story, “Jordanians protest against soaring food prices:  Protesters angry over high food costs and unemployment call for the prime minister to step down, in an echo of Tunisian demonstrations.”

And then we have Egypt.

Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House, was interviewed at Davos (click here) and said the Egyptian riots “were driven partly of course by the rise of food prices.”

NPR had a long story on the subject today, “Rising Food Prices Can Topple Governments, Too” (quoted at the top), which notes:

Rising prices are “leading to riots, demonstrations and political instability,” New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini said during a panel discussion. “It’s really something that can topple regimes, as we have seen in the Middle East.”

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

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

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

Energy insecurity and climate instability have now become key factors in food insecurity, which in turn has become a key factor in toppling governments.  And that’s without even considering the impact of the nation and the world’s wildly counterproductive strategy of growing crop-based biofuels (see “Are biofuels a core climate solution?” and “Let them eat biofuels!” and “”The Fuel on the Hill “” The Corn Supremacy“).

It’s hard to see how oil prices won’t keep rising, absent another deep global economic downturn (see World’s top energy economist warns: “We have to leave oil before oil leaves us and  German military study warns of peak oil crisis and Peak oil production coming sooner than expected).

And the extreme weather we are seeing is only going to get worse.  The country’s top climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen, recently explained:

Given the association of extreme weather and climate events with rising global temperature, the expectation of new record high temperatures in 2012 also suggests that the frequency and magnitude of extreme events could reach a high level in 2012. Extreme events include not only high temperatures, but also indirect effects of a warming atmosphere including the impact of higher temperature on extreme rainfall and droughts. The greater water vapor content of a warmer atmosphere allows larger rainfall anomalies and provides the fuel for stronger storms driven by latent heat.

It’s likely half the years this decade will be hotter and more extreme than 2010 “” and most of the years in the next decade.

Bread and Circuses” (panem et circenses) is the Roman phrase denoting the superficial effort of maintaining public approval through cheap food and entertainment.  When the food isn’t cheap, though, the strategy collapses, perhaps along with the entire global Ponzi scheme.

Those who think that the serious impacts of climate change — and our inane energy policies — on the world economy and U.S. national security are decades away are simply not paying attention.

UPDATE:  The climate ostriches at NewsBusters — and anti-science extremist Michelle Malkin — have actually attacked this post for daring to suggest that climate change plays any role whatsoever in the higher food prices that numerous experts say are contributing to the unrest.  The point, of course, is not that global warming is causing the unrest or that there aren’t major underlying causes.

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

Related Posts:

“I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”

61 Responses to Reports: Egyptian and Tunisian riots were driven in part by the spike in global food prices

  1. Richard Brenne says:

    One of the panels I’ve produced and moderated has been titled “The Future of Food.” NCAR scientists talked about what climate change could mean to global agriculture. NOAA freshwater scientists talked about what aquifer depletion and loss of glacial baseline water could mean to agriculture. Water infrastructure experts have talked about how that isn’t sufficient to meet global food demands.

    Peak oil, peak natural gas, peak phosphorus and peak everything experts talked about what each of those could mean to agriculture.

    I haven’t yet had topsoil loss experts, nitrogen cycle experts and pollinator loss experts (represented by the colony collapse disorder of honeybees), but plan to, and I speak to these experts often.

    And Gail Zawacki’s (at Wit’s End) concern about how ozone, or the cumulative soup of all pollutants, is impairing the immune systems and thus health and thus life spans of all plants globally, including crops, could move up the list of primary concerns, perhaps even to the top.

    Each of these experts is concerned with how we’re going to feed 7 billion people with just their concern alone, but all of these issues synthesize with each of the others, and in many cases the effects will be more like multiplying them together than merely adding.

    If you are a communicator in any area including journalism and teaching and if you’re not talking about this in one way or another, ideally with the big picture in mind but also communicating the various composite pieces, then you are just an integral part of the denying process, you’re doing more harm than good, and you either need to be replaced or start doing your job.

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    Richard –
    Add this quote to your files …..

    Potash Corp CEO sees higher food prices for years

    “We actually need a record crop now, every year, just to keep pace with demand,” said Doyle, who has worked n the fertilizer industry for close to four decades.

  3. Sailesh Rao says:

    Despite these food shortages, nearly half of the agricultural output of the world goes to feed livestock, to enable high footprint lifestyles for some. If they would lower that footprint, they would reduce pressure on Nature and give her a chance to sequester the excess atmospheric carbon as forests regenerate, while also allowing biodiversity to recover.

    Yet, Jim Hansen and Al Gore, to name a couple of climate luminaries, publicly admit that they continue to consume livestock products. In addition to making the connection between climate change and food shortages, perhaps Jim Hansen also needs to make the connection between climate change and his personal consumption choices. Otherwise, his grandchildren will definitely say in the future,

    “Opa knew all along, but continued to eat beef.”

  4. Bob Lang says:

    Since last July, grain and oilseed prices have increased as follows, bearing in mind that corn is by far the largest US cereal crop and is used primarly as livestock feed (hogs and poultry, all prices in $/bushel):

    Corn from $3.50 to $6.50 (86%)

    Wheat from $4.30 to $8.25 (92%)

    Soybeans from $9.40 to $14.00 (46%)

  5. Robert says:

    The corollary to the rebound effect…

    If you take the view that the world will continue to grow in population until limited by food supply then the consumption of livestock could be seen as providing a buffer – a way to make more food by the simple mechanism of everyone going veggie. Put it this way, if we were all vergetarian now we could probably feed upward of 20 billion, and that would have the makings of a die-off to end all die-offs if we suddenly ran into major crop failures.

    Similarly, wasting oil now is in some ways a good thing for the future (if you assume we are going to burn all of it eventually anyway). The more we waste now the less dependent we get and the less we will miss it when it’s gone.

  6. Villabolo says:

    @3 Sailesh Rao:

    In addition to making the connection between climate change and food shortages, perhaps Jim Hansen also needs to make the connection between climate change and his personal consumption choices. Otherwise, his grandchildren will definitely say in the future,

    “Opa knew all along, but continued to eat beef.”

    Switching to a vegetarian lifestyle will simply allow the increase of population which itself is a factor in Global Warming. Furthermore, our form of agriculture is totally non-sustainable even without livestock.

    What we need is a totally different kind of civilization that uses sustainable permaculture in the context of self reliant communities. Then the issue of livestock will be moot.

    Killing off livestock will be necessary though under extreme conditions.

  7. Matt Heard says:

    @ Villabolo (6)
    It seems to me that an increase in population would not necessarily cause an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, if said population was not living a higher-carbon lifestyle (non-vegan, for example). Wouldn’t drawing a line directly from population to global warming be oversimplifying the actual links?

  8. Mike says:

    So, climate change can cause democracy? I wonder when that will work for us? ;)

  9. Matt Heard says:

    I can think of only three possible causes of population stability/decline (listed in order of my guess of increasing likelihood):
    (1) Mass education, where the vast majority of people are educated to a tertiary level. I’m not sure of the numbers or sources but I believe that I’ve heard credible studies of an inverse correlation between education and birth-rate. Please correct me if I am mistaken. This possibility appears to be extremely unlikely.
    (2) Global war, where regional tensions spark mass casualties. This possibility seems unlikely, although increasing as resources become scarce. For example, access to Himalayan melt-water in India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers.
    (3) Mass death from lack of regular access to food and water, where increased frequency of extreme weather puts pressures on crops and lack of glacier melt-water puts pressures on clean water supplies. This appears to be very likely (and arguably already occurring).

    Population growth is practically unsustainable and ultimately (and pessimistically) it will be stabilized (at least) by a combination of starvation and war, rather than any peaceful or positive causes.

  10. Ed Hummel says:

    I hate to say this, but I think the excess population of our global civilization is on the verge of being “stabilized”. The world wide floods and droughts of the past year along with rising oil prices in the face of a still slow global economy are the proximate causes as Jared Diamond likes to say. Tunisia and Egypt are showing the way to our future, only most people don’t know it yet.

  11. paulm says:

    Apparently this was not related to the cyclone in the region at the time…
    Perth has been having very hot weather recently.

    6000 homes without power in Wheatbelt

    Spokeswoman Miriam Borthwick says the extent of the damage means it could be several days before supplies are restored.

    “About 80 power poles were brought down out there, a lot of lines were damaged and substations were struck by lightning,” she said.

    “The damage has really been quite extensive.”

    Communities are facing a multi-million dollar damage bill after a severe storm swept through the region at the weekend.

  12. Matt Heard says:

    Will international food crises cause an increase in adoption of vegetarian and vegan diets in the developed world or will our wealth act as a buffer to prevent near-future lifestyle change? In the developed world, we appear to be suffering food production issues of our own, but these don’t seem to be developing into “crises” like those in the developing world. Is our wealth and social safety net preventing us from feeling the warning signs of future crises?

  13. paulm says:

    Food for thought

    The future of food riots
    Gwynne Dyer

    Climate change is going to make the situation immeasurably worse.

    The rule of thumb is that we lose about 10% of world food production for every rise of one degree Celsius in average global temperature.
    So the shortages will grow and the price of food will rise inexorably over the years. The riots will return again and again.

  14. BobG says:

    In response to Matt Heard’s concerns about population. He is right that education, particularly the education of women, is inversely related to birth rates. Demographers predict that world population will top out around mid-century at about 9 billion and then start a slow decline, due to increasing education and development. The key question for all of us is: Can we find a way to guide our civilization through the next 50 years without it spinning apart with horrendous results? Perhaps a Climate Progress piece on population and how it is likely to affect climate change (and vice versa) is in order.

  15. Some will like this anecdote from my recent article on how speculation is driving up food prices (though there is a climate component as well):

    The Russian drought simply sparked this latest speculative bubble. Russia did lose 33 percent of its wheat harvest, but it had plenty of wheat stocks on hand to make up the difference. Instead of using those stocks, the Russian government was persuaded by multinational grain companies to ban wheat exports.

    That enabled those companies to break their low-price export contracts with Egypt, Bangladesh and other countries and sell their grain on the inflated domestic wheat market, says Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN, a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers.

    “Big companies now control much of the Russian agriculture,” Kuyek said in an interview.

    GRAIN has documented how foreign and local investors have set up huge, vertically integrated “agro-holdings”, particularly in the southern grain belt where they now control 40-50 percent of total grain production.

    Russia is a major wheat exporter and Swiss-owned Glencore exports most of Russia’s wheat. However, GRAIN research reveals that Glencore lobbied to get an export ban allowing the company to cancel its low-price contracts without penalty.

    To ease the ‘sting’ of the ban, Russia also promised one billion dollars in low-interest loans and subsidies for grain producers.

    “Countries like Egypt really got screwed and the grain traders made a killing,” Kuyek said

  16. #1 Richard I write a great deal about agriculture and food. There isn’t a food shortage. hunger is a poverty problem otherwise no one would be hungry in the US right? All the talk about about boosting yields and productivity is used as cover for the fundamental problems of the global food system. This is not to say that we don’t face other major challenges of water, climate, that you mention but without addressing the underlying problem there can be little progress.

    You might want to read this
    “In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold”

    Apparently my 2008 article on soil erosion is the most up to date popular overview according to Lester Brown.
    Peak Soil: The Silent Global Crisis

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    Sailesh Roo (#3) – I’ve always appreciated your many deeply thoughtful, helpful comments and also feel you make a good and needed point about eating lower on the food chain, ideally vegetarian and vegan.

    However, I object to your criticism of Gore and especially Hansen. Yes, it would be good if they set positive examples in every area, including becoming vegetarians and publicizing the importance of that. A scientist from India told me he felt Gore should set the example of village simplicity Gandhi set. He made an excellent point, although I’m not sure I’d want to see Gore wearing the homespun Gandhi wore.

    While all of us would ideally make changes (eating lower on the food chain, driving and flying less or not at all, downsizing to much smaller and more energy intensive homes, ideally small apartment-sized, etc, etc, etc), I think Hansen has done more to understand climate change and Gore has done more to communicate it than anyone else.

    I feel nothing but immense gratitude to each of them for this. While the right can create the most unholy alliance of the largest corporations with the most dogmatic fundamentalists and present a unified front, we on the left attack each other in just such ways. I think we need as much unity on the left on this and related issues as we can possibly muster.

    I wouldn’t want Hansen to come to this blog – which I hope and think he occasionally does – and say, “Forget them, if I’m going to get more criticism than support over there,” which has often and curiously been the case.

    I especially wouldn’t have used his grandchildren’s term of endearment for him in this case. I feel nothing but endearment for Hansen, you and all others understanding and communicating climate change, and would like to see us all working together as closely as we possibly can.

  18. Barry says:

    Robert (#5): Similarly, wasting oil now is in some ways a good thing for the future (if you assume we are going to burn all of it eventually anyway).

    Wrong. Wasting oil is a really bad idea from a climate standpoint.

    We had sure better not burn all the “oil”…or we are toast. As Hansen repeatedly points out, most of the known “unconventional” fossil fuels must stay in the ground forever. Traditional oil supplies are being increasingly augmented by far dirtier “unconventionals” like tar sands, oil shale and coal-to-liquids. The second biggest “oil” reserves in the world after Saudis are the tar sands in Canada.

    The idea that we can burn all the tar sands of the world in a wasteful binge and not push climate past nasty tipping points is dangerous fantasy.

    It might be nice to think we can pig out at the oil trough still and through some “freakonomics” backdoor from conventional wisdom actually help the climate problem. But that isn’t what the climate science shows.

    Please don’t try it at home…

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    Possibly the reason why the chinese government censors atm the news about egypt etc.

    China readies price controls to tackle food inflation

    Notice the history

    Great Chinese Famine
    The Great Chinese Famine (simplified Chinese: 三年大饥荒; traditional Chinese: 三年大饑荒; pinyin: Sānnián dà jīhuāng), officially referred to as the Three Years of Natural Disasters (simplified Chinese: 三年自然灾害; traditional Chinese: 三年自然災害; pinyin: Sānnián zìrán zāihài), was the period in the People’s Republic of China between 1958 and 1961 characterized by widespread famine. Although some degree of drought and weather conditions contributed to the disaster, most of the deaths can be attributed to policies of the Communist Party of China which was led by Mao Zedong.
    According to government statistics, there were 15 million excess deaths in this period. Unofficial estimates vary, but scholars have estimated the number of famine victims to be between 20 and 43 million.[1] Yang Jisheng, a former Xinhua News Agency reporter who spent over ten years gathering information available to no other scholars, estimates excess deaths of 36 million.[2] Historian Frank Dikötter, having been granted special access to Chinese archival materials, estimates that there were at least 45 million premature deaths from 1958 to 1962.

    These radical changes in farming organization coincided with adverse weather patterns including droughts and floods. In July 1959, the Yellow River flooded in East China. According to the Disaster Center,[8] it directly killed, either through starvation from crop failure or drowning, an estimated 2 million people, while other areas were affected in other ways as well. It could be ranked as one of the deadliest natural disasters of the 20th century.[9]
    In 1960, at least some degree of drought and other bad weather affected 55 percent of cultivated land , while an estimated 60% of agricultural land received no rain at all.[10] The Encyclopædia Britannica yearbooks from 1958 to 1962 also reported abnormal weather, followed by droughts and floods. This included 30 inches (760 mm) of rain in Hong Kong across five days in June 1959, part of a pattern that hit all of Southern China.

    According to the work of Nobel prize winning economist and expert on famines Amartya Sen, most famines do not result just from lower food production, but also from an inappropriate or inefficient distribution of the food, often compounded by lack of information and indeed misinformation as to the extent of the problem.

    There are widespread oral reports, and some official documentation, of cannibalism being practiced in various forms, as a result of the famine.[14][15][16] Due to the scale of the famine, the resulting cannibalism has been described as “on a scale unprecedented in the history of the 20th century”

  20. Barry says:

    Global population isn’t driving the climate crisis folks.

    Stephen Pacala of Princeton University (of the stabilization wedges fame) showed that just 15% of the world’s population is responsible for 75% of GHG. Hello. Climate change…like gout…is a disease of the wealthy. That is most of us.

    Here are some quotes.

    Pacala: “The 3 billion poorest people…emit essentially nothing. The take-home message here is that you could increase the emissions of all of those people by putting diesel generators or anything you wanted into their lives and it would not materially affect anything I’m going to say… In other words, the development of the desperately poor is not in conflict with solving the climate problem, which is a problem of the very rich. This is very, very important to understand.”

    Pacala: “In contrast, the rich are really spectacular emitters. …the top 500 million people [7.5% of humanity] emit half the greenhouse emissions. These people are really rich by global standards. Every single one of them earns more than the average American and they also occur in all the countries of the world. There are Chinese and Americans and Europeans and Japanese and Indians all in this group.”

    The second 7.5% of humanity by wealth dumps 25% of global GHG. And so on.

    Yes China has big emissions. They also are a nation of a huge number of millionaires (high emitters) living in a unimaginably large sea of desperately poor (low emitters). Plus a quarter of their GHG is making stuff for the wealthy in other parts of the world…like here.

    Population is a real squeeze on the planet’s ecosystems and is a top priority in my view…but not for climate. The solution for population is education of girls and economic freedom for women.

    As E.O.Wilson said in his excellent book “The Future Of Life”, the thing that is going to save humanity, if we make it through the bottleneck of the next 100 years, is that homo sapien females — when given a choice — universally choose to have a replacement-only number of children. It could have been otherwise as it is for so many of the planet’s species.

  21. Barry says:

    I thought an interesting point in the NPR story was why we aren’t seeing food pricing inflation in USA despite raising raw food prices.

    The reason is that raw food prices (like the price of corn, soy and wheat) are very tiny percentage of what we pay for food in USA. Mostly we pay for processing and packaging and advertising and fancy stores and such.

    So for Americans the rise in basic commodity prices doesn’t effect our overall food bill that much. So far.

    But for the poor that buy basic staples they are getting hammered.

  22. Sailesh Rao says:

    Robert #5 and Villabolo #6: The correlation between population growth and food production is just that, a correlation. As someone who works in remote villages of India where fertility rates are high, I can assure you that these people are actually going hungry simultaneously. Their high fertility rates have to do with their high mortality rates due to non-existent health care, which makes old age security a crap shoot unless they have large families. Women in these villages actually walk 5 miles with a 50 pound head load of firewood in order to barter the wood for whey so that their children can have some extra nutrition.

    As such, consuming lots of animal products or burning lots of biofuels is not a good way for developed countries to put downward pressure on population growth in developing countries. It actually puts enormous pressure on developing countries to clear out their tropical rain forests to create more crop land, thereby accelerating biodiversity loss and mass extinction. Developed countries are now attempting to pay governments in developing countries to preserve forests through REDD etc., but as the situation in Egypt shows, governments are not stable when the people are hungry. Therefore, it appears that developed countries will eventually need to confront and reduce their enormous consumption footprints.

    Isn’t it unconscionable that the Amazon is getting cleared out to grow GMO soybeans to feed livestock in Europe and North America?

  23. Richard Brenne says:

    Sailesh Roo (#19) and Barry (#16, 17, 18) – These are all great comments, and it’s important to point out how the richest 15% emit 75% of greenhouse gasses.

    However, Barry, your first sentence at #17 might use a little tweaking when you say “Global population isn’t driving the climate crisis folks.”

    Maybe the increase in per capita consumption is driving the climate crisis more, but global population is also an important driver.

    If per capita consumption remained the same and population grew, we would have a problem not only with climate but all the other symptoms of Anthro-Earth, meaning all human impacts or limits to growth. Similarly if population remained the same and per capita consumption grew, we would also have these problems growing.

    The problem is not so much an either/or, but that we’re growing both.

    I’m on the side of the poor as much as anyone I know, and if I were made King of the Universe (this is only in the discussion stages) and if were up to me (clearly it isn’t) we’d go back to being as egalitarian as all our hunter and gatherer ancestors over the vast majority of all generations (How hard could this be to implement?). However in this discussion it’s important to point out that a small but significant percentage of poor and middle-class people will always become rich and thus big emitters. Often just moving to a rich country makes them significant emitters over time.

    Also poor people stress fresh water and topsoil, contribute to deforestation creating grazing land instead of forest (even if the rich are the prime consumers of meat), and using wood for cooking and heating. Expanding habitat, hunting and poaching contribute to species loss, especially of our closest relatives the Great Apes and other charismatic species like all the big cats.

    While all the points you and Pacala make are good ones, I don’t think they should be made in a simplistic, either/or, binary, my-concern-is-bigger-than-your-concern kind of way. I always speak of Overpopulation and Overconsumption together, and have convinced population experts like Al Bartlett to do the same. Overconsumption might be the primary driver of greenhouse gasses as you say, but Overpopulation is also an important driver of this and many other problems, and together they’re the parents of our most dangerous, virtually intractable problems.

  24. Bob Wallace says:

    There are some who disagree…

    “No, there are not (and will never be) too many people for the planet to feed. As the report’s lead author, Dr Tim Fox, pointed out, its verdict is not based on speculative guesses about the development of new agricultural processes as yet unknown: “We can meet the challenge of feeding a planet of 9 billion people through the application of existing technologies”. For example, Dr Fox pointed out, in Africa, no less than half the food produced is destroyed before it reaches its local marketplace: with refrigeration and good roads, the developing world could avoid this horrendous waste.

    Interestingly, another detailed report on “sustainability” published last week by the French national agricultural and development research agencies came up with the same answer. The French scientists set themselves the goal of discovering whether a global population of 9 billion, the likely peak according to the UN, could readily have access to 3,000 calories a day, even as farms take measures to cut down on the use of fossil fuels and refrain from cutting down more forests: their answer was, you will be thrilled to know, “yes”.”

  25. Paulm says:

    Poverty, high food prices and corruption: the economic reasons behind Egypt’s unrest. Plus a leading US environmentalist says that 2011 is the year of the ‘Great Food Crisis’.

    More Programme Information

  26. dorlomin says:

    Of Topic but you might want to have a read.

    All that effort and money to dent UKs belief in climate change by 3%.

  27. Ed Hummel says:

    It always amuses me when I read how technology will solve this and that problem, especially when it applies to food. Modern humans have developed a profound love affair with anything that seems to show our dominance over nature through whiz-band technological fixes. The reality is that every single one of us has an impact of the rest of the systems on this small planet, no matter what we do and how we live. The question becomes, how do we find the optimum, sustainable way of living that doesn’t disrupt too much of the rest of nature in the process. I don’t see how having 7 billion or more people on this planet that are sustained by an unsustainable, industrially driven food supply doesn’t disrupt nature.

    Even small scale farming and gardening alter the normal balance of natural ecosystems while large scale farming totally obliterates them while leaving itself open to catastrophic collapse because of the imbalances. I think it is a moot point to argue whether we can sustain 3 billion industrialized humans and 4 billion “developing” humans. The fact is that there are way too many of us to allow any Earth system to function for any length of time. When I was a boy in the 1950s there were only 2.5 billion of us and that’s tripled since then. There is just no physcial way that we can support that number sustainably, but it is politically and socially impossible to do anything else but try to feed us.

    So, despite all the dire warnings from Jim Hansen and others about what’s coming, there is no way political leaders will stop burning fossil fuels in a time frame that’s going to make any difference to solving the problem of global warming. That’s not to say that events such as in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries with anti-government riots sparked by food shortages and price rises won’t topple some political leaders before they have a chance to authorize more fossil fuel use. Shaky, autocratic governments might be the first to fall and who knows what will replace them. But eventually even established democracies will see shaky times as we did in this country many times in our history.

    I don’t think people in the US today really appreciated just how precarious our republic is. There was nothing inevitable about the Union victory in the Civil War. There was nothing inevitable about Roosevelt’s New Deal quieting the unrest that was rampant here during the Great Depression. A true reading of US History demonstrates that we’ve been pretty lucky for the last 230 years to have remained a relatively united country that has reached its present state in the world. A confluence of dark trends all aiming at us from different directions with global warming as the underlying platform and global food crises as the first act in the “Great Unraveling” would really pose a test to this country that I don’t think we could withstand, even with another Lincoln or Roosevelt at the helm. James Howard Kunstler calls such a thing a “clusterfuck” and it’s sure beginning to look as though he’s right. Pogo really had it right: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

  28. Edward says:

    Maybe if we quit using corn to power our vehicles we would have more food.

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    Related, Must See within scope of discussion

    Food, Inc. is a 2008 American documentary film directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner.[2] The film examines corporate farming in the United States, concluding that agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and its employees. The film is narrated by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.[3][4] The documentary was criticized by large American corporations engaged in industrial food production,_Inc.

    Official Web


  30. Wes Rolley says:

    One of my concerns over any rapid switch to a vegan lifestyle, is that we would replace animal protein with soy protein in our diets and that Brazil would clear more rain forest to plant more soybeans. The law of unintended consequences rules.

  31. StewartIII says:

    NewsBusters: Climate Alarmist Blames Egypt Crisis On Global Warming

  32. Colorado Bob says:

    BEIJING — China’s capital is facing its longest wait for winter snowfall in 60 years as drought in the northern part of the country affects millions of people.

    State media say if it doesn’t snow in Beijing on Saturday this will be the longest the capital has had to wait in the six decades since the weather bureau started keeping such records. No snow is forecast in the coming days.

    Months of dry weather have given China’s key wheat-growing province of Shandong its worst drought in at least 40 years. That threatens to put further pressure on surging food prices.

  33. StewartIII says:

    Doug Powers| What’s to Blame for the Crisis in Egypt? You Guess it: Global Warming

  34. Barry says:

    Richard (#22), you are right that my statement that “Global population isn’t driving the climate crisis” isn’t 100% accurate.

    Population growth does have an effect on GHG like so many things. I should have said something like “global population growth is a minor force in the climate crisis”.

    The GHG from the wealthiest 1% of humanity flying each year equals the GHG from the poorest 50% of humanity in their entire lives.

    The average American has dumped 500 times more GHG than the average African.

    Most of the global population growth is occurring now in the poorest regions of the world. The sum of these people’s total GHG is impossible to see on a pie chart.

    I’m reacting to the emerging meme in the wealthy world that somehow the climate crisis is caused by vast numbers of poor people. Not.

  35. Sailesh Rao says:

    @Richard Brenne: I too am grateful for both Jim Hansen and Al Gore, but they seem to have blinders on with regards to consumption which I’m trying to call out. I believe that we can’t solve our problems by focusing just on their production aspects, while ignoring and even encouraging consumption. That would be the “war on drugs” revisited, but on steroids. As you know, world population increased by a factor of 6 during the past two centuries, but world consumption increased by a factor of 68. While the UN is projecting that world population will stabilize at 9 billion by 2050 – a 50% increase from 2000 levels, it is projecting that world consumption will grow 300% from 2000 levels in that time with no plateauing in sight. I’m concerned that the planet cannot withstand such a concerted consumer assault.

    As Alan Weitzmann pointed out in “The World Without Us,” if humanity goes into cold storage today, the planet will heal itself in short order. Therefore, it is the sum total of our individual activities and choices that is adding up to the climate crisis, the extinction crisis, etc., and it is time we acknowledge that. While the climate crisis can perhaps be averted if we switched all our energy sources to solar and wind, I don’t see the point of doing that if we are simply going to mindlessly consume ourselves to extinction.

    @Wes Rolley: We are already growing all the soybeans we’ll ever need for a balanced vegan diet for the planet, but most of it is getting converted into cow dung, pig and chicken manure at the moment, with a small fraction of it going to make muscle meat on the livestock.

  36. Richard Brenne says:

    Barry (#35), still good points, and still missing my point.

    “Global population growth is a minor force in the climate crisis” is also not an accurate statement, while the rest of your statements are excellent. It again suffers from either/or, binary thinking. Why can’t they both be a problem? Why does one problem have to invalidate another? This binary thinking always smacks of wanting to win an argument more than wanting to know the truth, something that seems at the root of most discourse, including often the social sciences.

    Granted Americans and other rich people emit a disproportionate number of greenhouse gasses. Even if the rates of consumption and emission remained the same, doubling the population of America (which has happened in my lifetime) doubles the rate of consumption and emissions of greenhouse gasses. Doubling in half a century is not a minor force in the climate crisis.

    Again, your points are excellent, important and well-taken. I’d just prefer something like “While increased population, especially of the rich and the poor becoming rich, is an important contribution to all greenhouse gasses, the richest 15% of Anthro-Earth’s population create 75% of all greenhouse gasses, and this is an even more pressing and immediate problem.”

    Or we can all watch Fox News and forget the whole thing.

    Again, great points, Barry (as always), with just that one tweak to me. And we might remember as I said in comment #23 that people of every class greatly impact clean fresh water, topsoil, air quality, deforestation and the numbers of individuals of all other species. Greenhouse gasses might be the primary symptom of the disease of Overpopulation and Overconsumption, but it isn’t the only one.

  37. Richard Brenne says:

    Sailesh Rao (#36) – It’s funny that when I’m writing a response to one extremely thoughtful response, another appears. Great first paragraph, really masterful, and making the point about consumption that Barry makes, with additional very helpful statistics. I still stand by my comment above (#37) that both Overpopulation and Overconsumption are a problem.

    While I appreciate Weitzmann’s work, I think Hansen’s concern that we could be creating a runaway greenhouse effect creating a dead planet is based on an infinitely greater understanding of atmospheric science past, present and future. (Not all of Hansen’s collegues agree with him, of course, because I’ve asked many of them. But Hansen seems to be a couple of decades ahead of the scientific consensus, and right an impressive if troubling percentage of the time.)

    Really at the core of the problem is that the richest billion of us are living beyond the lifestyles of any pre-20th Century King or Emperor in terms of our ability to travel, access (electronic) knowledge and entertainment, and to eat food grown from about as far away as we want.

    In addition to wealth, this richest billion (1/7 of Anthro-Earth’s population, around Barry’s 15%) probably controls the vast majority of the planet’s political power. Do we really think they’re going to give up that power or their lifestyles? Why do we think they’re going to suddenly care for the poor when for all intents and purposes they never have before, even with people dying of famine or floods like Katrina around them?

    Most U.S. states are facing bankruptcy, but my guess is that even a small fraction of the wealth instead diverted to yachts, multi-engine private planes, golfing, cosmetics, jewelry, pets, SUVs, expensive furniture or clothes could allow states to upgrade infrastructure and provide education and even health care.

    But as Stephen Leahy points out in his excellent articles he links to in comment #16, the point of farming isn’t feeding people, but profit, just as the point of health care in this country isn’t health, but profit.

    So while Stephen makes more excellent points in those two articles than any articles I’ve read about agriculture, in his comment and others they say “We have enough food to feed everyone on Earth.”

    Yes, if the rich suddenly decided to share their wealth. This might be a realistic discussion, but unfortunately only on some other planet.

  38. Sailesh Rao says:

    Richard Brenne #38: What rich people need to do in order to avert the climate crisis and the extinction crisis is unprecedented. Therefore, it is perhaps moot that rich people have never taken such unprecedented steps in the past. Please have faith that even the rich occupants of the luxury suites on the Titanic were glad to exchange those suites for cramped seats on the lifeboats. Except that in our case, there are no rescue ships on the horizon and we have no choice but to maneuver the Titanic around the iceberg, with all hands on deck.

    I suggest that the inner system change that we need, rich or poor, is to develop genuine compassion for all creation, not just for other human beings. Our technological prowess is such that we are killing off all that we consider to be inferior and worthless, thereby accidentally triggering our own demise. We, especially the rich people, need to develop that compassion in a hurry, but then, haven’t we deployed technology that can enable such mass awakening during the past two decades?

    It is possible…

  39. Richard Brenne says:

    Sailesh Rao (#39) – Well said, again and as always. I’m afraid the Titanic metaphor is most accurate if instead of hoping to avoid the iceberg, we admit we’ve hit the iceberg and need to do everything we can to save everyone we can.

    Many on the Titanic (especially the richest, the poor down in steerage hearing the hull around them groaning knew) were in denial that it could sink even well after it had hit the iceberg. They are the equivalent to today’s climate change (and everything else that’s science-based and threatening) deniers.

    I think the crisis that we’ve created is spiritual, moral and intellectual. It is like our species (especially the richest, including myself) has behaved like the worst alcoholic or drug addict.

    Without the equivalent to the 12 steps that began with Alcoholics Anonymous, we will figuratively drink or drug ourselves to death in the gutter.

    The key steps are to see all the devastation we’ve caused and are causing, take full responsibility for that and all our actions that caused it, admit that we can’t solve all this without appealing to a higher power (available, I feel, to atheists and everyone else – maybe a deep morality that many atheists manifest as well as anyone), change our behavior, and make all the amends we can to everyone and everything (as you say, including every living thing) we can.

    In proportion to how much we do that as individuals and collectively, I feel we can be saved from virtually anything (maybe not in ways we can now see, and maybe not in one lifetime, one planet or one plane of existence).

    If we do not even begin this process, as long as we refuse the gifts of humility, wisdom and love, we will continue to be lost.

    Just as many psychiatrists and psychologists won’t try to treat alcoholics who refuse to implement the 12 steps because the success rate is so low without traversing that difficult, challenging and even heroic terrain, I think our chance of success without at least the intelligentsia (all teachers, writers, filmmakers and all other communicators) traversing this terrain are essentially nil. Technofixes and ill-informed optimism alone are just additional mechanisms of denial.

  40. From Peru says:

    Now there is “High Water” in Saudi Arabia (yes, FLOOD IN ONE OF THE DRIEST PLACES ON EARTH…)

    The second largest Saudi Arabia city, Jeddah is underwater, see this breathtaking images:

    If you want to know where Jeddah is, see this map:

    Jeddah is the largest city in the Mecca Province, and is the gateway to sacred city of Mecca.

    Now see this article here:

    “Saudi Hiccup?”

    In the article is noted that this also happened in 2009, when was called “Saudi Arabia Katrina” that was very poorly addressed by the local government (just like George Bush on New Orleans in 2005).

    Now it seems that the Jeddahites, unlike in 2009, are not so quiet over government inaction. Quoting the article:

    “A mass blackberry messenger message has gone out in Jeddah calling for a demonstration on Saturday, the 29th. It says:

    “On Saturday there will be a demonstration in front of the municipality for Jeddah … gather as many people as you can,” the message ran. “We need brave men and women. We don’t want any more lies … We have to do something.”

    Another message also sent via Blackberry urged all government and private sector employees to hold a general strike next week in protest at the authorities’ neglect of the city’s infrastructure.

    This is very serious news if it happens.”

    Maybe “high water” will be the spark that, together with the news from Egypt and Tunisia, ignite Revolution in Saudi Arabia, like high food prices in North Africa…

    So expect that oil prices will skyrocket, today the Brent crude passed the 100$ mark…

  41. espiritwater says:

    I totally agree, Sailesh and have been thinking the same thing. It is because people do not respect other life that we are in the mess we have today. Take for example, the Pakistani floods this summer. According to the news, it was the worst natural disaster they had ever experienced. However, it was much more than that. There were few trees and very little vegetation to retain the rain and so they ended up with awful floods and swimming for their lives all summer!

    They originally had forests covering 30% of their country when Pakistan was first formed. Now that’s down to about 4%. Furthermore, they have more animals being raised for food than Americans. If they had given respect to other life– that is, if they had not saw fit to scalp their way through their forests and if they had raised vegetables, beans instead of using so much land to eat the fleshe of their fellow- creatures, then they wouldn’t have had to spend the summer swimming for their lives. If people took “lightly” from the earth, if they respected other life forms, then we wouldn’t have the mess we have today.

  42. dp says:

    bringing these together…

    wes rolley said: “One of my concerns over any rapid switch to a vegan lifestyle, is that we would replace animal protein with soy protein in our diets and that Brazil would clear more rain forest to plant more soybeans.”

    sailesh rao replied: “We are already growing all the soybeans we’ll ever need for a balanced vegan diet for the planet, but most of it is getting converted into cow dung, pig and chicken manure at the moment, with a small fraction of it going to make muscle meat on the livestock.”

    i went trying to verify sailesh’s second part:

    “most of it is getting converted into cow dung, pig and chicken manure”

    i think people would agree that more than 80% of soy is grown for soy meal, to boost animal protein production, with soy oil as a byproduct.

    also that feedlot beef is a crime against good sense.

    but it also looks like industrial pork, chicken, and farmed fish produce near as much meat as they eat in soy (but way less meat than they eat in total grain).


  43. espiritwater says:

    To Richar Brenne, Sailesh, etc… Jim Hansen HAS advocated switching to a vegetarian diet. In one of the first emails he sent to me (when I finally got on his list!) was concerning this very topic! He said it and it surprised me because he’s such a prominent scientist and he’s advocating this!

  44. From Peru says:

    A must-read article on

    Egypt riots and Oil By TOBIAS VANDERBRUCK for OIL-PRICE.NET, 2011/01/31

    Quoting some key paragraphs:

    “Egypt’s oil production peaked in 1996 at 922,000 barrels/day. Since then, Egypt’s oil output has declined an alarming 26%. Moreover this decline is amplified each year as the rate of depletion in existing wells accelerates. As in most middle-eastern oil exporting nations, oil accounts for the quasi totality of this country’s exports and economy Egypt which used to be self-sufficient in all basic food groups back in the 1960s now imports most of its food and the state has relied on oil revenues to subsidize food prices. But as Egypt’s post-peak oil production plummets, so do food subsidies and food prices surge.


    Nearly 3 million barrels of oil transit daily through the Suez Canal, as much as Canada’s daily output, making it one of the world’s most important oil routes.


    Unfortunately Egypt is the country which controls the Suez Canal and as the food riots gradually take the shape of a revolution, the future of the Canal becomes a million dollar question. As it stands, the possibilities are endless, among which here are some likely scenario to ponder:

    -A labor strike may cause a temporary transit disruption through the canal. Not good news for Egyptians as the food Egypt imports also comes through the canal.

    -For a newly established government eager to prove its legitimacy, the most populist thing to do would be to significantly raise the Canal’s Tariff: The tax levied by Egypt on all oil flowing through the canal. This would be in effect a tax on non-Egyptian oil to subsidize Egyptian food. As a result oil prices would soar worldwide.

    Any temporary interruption in the Suez traffic would undoubtebly cause the US to open its 727 milion barrel strategic petroleum reserves to avoid domestic fuel shortages.


    It is in both the US and Egyptian national interests to keep both oil and food transiting securely through the canal. In 2010, Egypt was the second largest recipient of US military aid with 1.5 billion dollars”

    If the Unites States send troops to the Canal, it will be the worst thing that can be done. The current revolutionary process is against the corrupt and authoritarian Egiptian regime, not agaist the US or Israel like the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but an American military intervention to secure oil supplies will change that, leading Egiptian masses to Anti-american, Anti-Israeli feelings that will make the Islamists win widespread support among the Egyptian People.

    Such interventions lead in the past to the Iran Islamic Republic (Islamists were a minority group before the 1953 US-British intervention that crushed democracy in Iran), the formation of Taliban and Al Qaeda (remember when the islamic extremists in Afghanistan were massively funded and armed by the CIA in the 1980s?) and the catastrophic and deadly 2003-2010 Iraq war.

    I hope that Obama and Clinton shut up any private and military interests that push for a (almost surely catastrophic) military intervention to secure oil supplies.

  45. Sailesh Rao says:

    @Richard Brenne #40: Thank you for such a heartfelt response. Our species has every reason to be humble for it takes monumental stupidity to accidentally trigger a mass extinction in such a robustly constructed life support system called Earth. As for wisdom, I would point out that a truly wise being would never need to self-promote that wisdom. And, our species, by calling itself wise twice, fails that litmus test twice as well.

    Your AA analogy is apt, but an addict must first refrain from using before beginning the 12 steps. This is what the intelligentsia, especially the climate luminaries, should begin to practice right away to transition to a compassionate lifestyle. Ultimately, I think that it should be compassion and not just competition that threads the fabric of human society together.

    @dp #43: The conversion statistics that the livestock industry likes to quote is for soy protein to meat protein alone because it assuages the guilt of their consumers. The other grains that are fed livestock also contain protein, though not all of the amino acids are present. But, combinations of grains do supply complete proteins, for e.g., rice+beans, rice+lentils, etc. The best way to understand the wastage that occurs in the livestock industry is to measure the actual waste, the manure that is produced. In the US, 5 tons of livestock manure is produced per person per year, about twenty times larger than that person’s annual excretory output.

    @espiritwater #44: My information is from October 2010, when Jim Hansen came to Oakland, promoting his book. While he advocated the transition to a vegetarian diet, he also admitted that he doesn’t practice it. I thought that undermined his message considerably.

  46. From Peru says:

    Dozens detained in Saudi Arabia over flood protests

  47. dp says:

    sailesh rao:

    “The conversion statistics that the livestock industry likes to quote is for soy protein to meat protein alone because it assuages the guilt of their consumers. The other grains that are fed livestock also contain protein, though not all of the amino acids are present. But, combinations of grains do supply complete proteins, for e.g., rice+beans, rice+lentils, etc.”

    i wasn’t using industry self-reported information

    “The best way to understand the wastage that occurs in the livestock industry is to measure the actual waste, the manure that is produced. In the US, 5 tons of livestock manure is produced per person per year, about twenty times larger than that person’s annual excretory output.”

    1. we’re only talking about soy
    2. i see an EPA estimate of “over a billion tons” of manure, including dairy & eggs and horses — that comes to 3-4 tons per person, but even that has a problem, because the USA is notorious for food waste

  48. Richard Brenne says:

    Sailesh Rao (#46) – Beautifully said. If you care to share your background and what you’re working on, I’d love to hear.

  49. Prokaryotes says:

    Hunger affects one in seven households in the United States

    (NaturalNews) More than one in seven U.S. households lacked food security at some point in 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That figure is the highest since record-keeping began in 1995.

    The report defines food security as having access to enough food to lead an active, healthy life. In 2009, 14.7 percent of U.S. households — comprising more than 37 million adults and 17 million children — lacked food security on one or more occasions. This marked only a mild increase over 2008, when the figure was 14.6 percent, but a substantial increase over 2007, when it was only 11.1 percent.

    When the figures are broken down by degree of food insecurity, they reveal that 9 percent of U.S. households had low food security in 2009, defined as needing to rely on emergency food help (including from federal assistance programs like food stamps) or on “eating less varied diets.” Nearly six percent had very low food security, meaning that at least one member of the household had their normal eating patterns disrupted at least once during the year.

    Learn more:

  50. Prokaryotes says:

    Unrest in North Africa and Middle East may spread to Syria

    (CNN) — What began as a popular uprising that toppled the Tunisian government before spreading into Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan and, of course, Egypt, may now be headed for Syria.

    Opposition movements in Syria are calling for mass protests on Saturday against the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad.

    Good, good good

  51. Prokaryotes says:

    AlJazeera: Jordan’s King Abdullah dismisses government, names new PM amid protests

    And SURPRISE …

    Jordanians protest against soaring food prices

    Protesters angry over high food costs and unemployment call for the prime minister to step down, in an echo of Tunisian demonstrations

  52. Prokaryotes says:

    Iran’s Fuel Blockade Raises Food Prices, Tensions in Afghanistan

    To bad a potential iranian revolution, is hindered buy the european luster for dangerous fossil fuel …

    Iran’s crude oil buyers in Europe, Asia

  53. Stephen Leahy #16

    In, “In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold” I knew that the Cargill name would appear!

    On Wednesday, U.S.-based Cargill, the world’s largest agricultural commodities trader, announced a tripling of profits. The firm generated 1.49 billion dollars in three months between September and November 2010.

    Nearly one and a half billion in three months that is blood money, pure and simple. Cargill and their like in the fossil fuel and related industries have blood on their hands.

    Way past time to stop over-consumption of meat, where much grain ends up as feedstock, not good for anyone as the bloated bodies of the developed world attest.

    Of course in the US Health Care company executives also love it – more patients.

  54. Ed Hummel says:

    Looks to me that the climate and food related dominos are starting to fall in the Middle East. A Tunisian or Egyptian style uprising in Saudi Arabia will really cause oil prices to jump (as they have already started to do on the speculative future’s markets), and a real political upheaval there that effects their oil output would cause an immediate tanking of world economies which in turn will take big bites out of global food production. Thus is global warming raising its ugly head in its convoluted drive to put human civilization in its place. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

  55. Prokaryotes says:

    There are now reports that at least some cairo shops run empty on food stocks.

    Cairo is also ranked as one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Population (2008) – City 7,786,640 … With a population of 7.8 million[6] spread over 453 square kilometers (175 sq mi), Cairo is by far the largest city in Egypt. With an additional ten million inhabitants just outside the city, Cairo resides at the centre of the largest metropolitan area in Africa and the eleventh-largest urban area in the world.[7] Cairo, like many other mega-cities, suffers from high levels of pollution and traffic, but its metro – currently one of only two on the African continent – also ranks among the fifteen busiest in the world,[8] with over 700 million passenger rides annually. The economy of Cairo was ranked first in the Middle East,[9] and 43rd globally by Foreign Policy’s 2010 Global Cities Index.

  56. Sailesh Rao says:

    @Richard Brenne (#49): I run a non-profit called Climate Healers ( that is working with UC Berkeley, U of Iowa and Engineering for Change on a stored energy solar cook stove for remote villages in the global South. In my spare time, I’m writing a book, Carbon Karma.

  57. Richard Brenne says:

    Sailesh Rao – Awesome! (Your website, solar cook stove and I’m sure book.) I’m fascinated by the concept of individual and collective karma, and in my personal karma accounting hope I’m inching up on that of another Dick, Cheney.

  58. All Aspects says:

    Time for an economist to add to this thread by commenting on the effects of commodification of basic foods. My understanding is that a significant cause of the sudden spike in prices, was market speculation and the profits of speculators now added to food prices.

    [JR: Please provide links.]

  59. It is obvious that raising population will increase demand for food rapidly. Any climate factors that can lower the harvest are very dangerous and need to be strictly examined if not predicted in advance. So it means that we are completely dependent on scientist who should predict the weather forecast. Do they have enough knowledge and technologies to do that? As we are running out of almost everything we have to supply our lives I appeal to frugality until we can discover something new to develop the human race.

  60. brc says:

    A bigger contribution to commodity price rises than supply side issues is the decline in value of the US Dollar. Because the US is printing dollars and driving down the value of it’s own currency, it’s exporting inflation to developing countries. Basic Egyptian food is subsidised, and the government can’t afford to keep subsidising when international prices keep rising. Some supply-side effects contribute, but the bulk of commodity price increase is actually US dollar decrease. In fact you could say that the value of food has stayed much the same, but the value of the currency has fallen. Oil/Gold is quite steady, but Oil/USD has changed rather a lot. So the USA might be causing the revolutions, but rather more by exporting inflation over co2. You’ll note that these circumstances where repeated in 2008, just before the financial crisis that created a flight to safety away from emerging markets, and a relative reflation of the USD until the crisis passed. Which it now has, and the stated aim of the Federal Reserve is to print money and devalue the dollar. If you want to stop unrest in developing nations, talk to Ben Bernanke first.