Expert consensus grows on contribution of record high food prices to Middle East unrest

Scientific American on Egypt: “… there is no doubt that rising food prices added fuel to an already combustible mix,” other MidEast countries “have been snapping up supplies of wheat in the world market to forestall any hint of food price spikes””or regime change”

E&E NewsHigh food prices brought about by climate change have helped fuel the current unrest in the Middle East, the United Kingdom’s global warming envoy said yesterday.

Oxfam:  “Food prices are just one of many factors contributing to the situation in Egypt, but they have helped provide a spark for recent unrest across the region.”

The Atlantic:  “The foundation of Egypt’s economy is broken. Even worse, there is the acute shock of global food prices rising. Agricultural inflation puts a particular squeeze on Egypt’s middle class, because their paychecks go overwhelmingly toward nourishment.”

NPR:  “Rising Food Prices Can Topple Governments, Too”

Slate:   “Protesting on an Empty Stomach.”

The Guardian:  “How extreme weather could create a global food crisis” [That’s my new article]

ClimateProgress works hard to identify the key climate and energy issues before they hit the mainstream media.  That’s why I wrote this piece last August, “The Coming Food Crisis: Global food security is stretched to the breaking point, and Russia’s fires and Pakistan’s floods are making a bad situation worse.”

That’s why I began a multipart series on food insecurity in early January on the connection between extreme-weather (driven in part by climate change) and high food prices.  Even I didn’t realize how timely it would be, although Lester Brown, an expert on the food-climate connection, had warned me a crisis could be right around the corner.

As unrest spread through the MidEast, it became increasingly obvious that higher food prices were playing a key triggering role.  This link was predictably attacked by those who deny climate science — and a smaller group who seem to accept the science but then deny the reality of climate impacts (even though they purport to believe adaptation to climate impacts is the best climate strategy).  We must understand the impacts we see today, because they are only going to get worse in the future.

The stories cited above are a very good start for anyone who wants to understand the various connections.  Obviously, as I’ve said many times, the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa had many causes, some underlying (like decades of anti-democratic repression) and some triggering.  But to miss the food angle is to miss a key factor.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has a new report out, “World food prices reach new historic peak,” which is the source of the graph above (with added text by the NY Times).   They have some other good charts, like the one on the right.

The NYT article on the FAO report explains:

Riots and demonstrations erupting across the Middle East are not directly inspired by rising food prices alone, experts noted, but that is one factor fueling the anger directed toward governments in the region. Egypt was among more than a dozen countries that experienced food riots in 2008….

Four main factors are seen as driving prices higher: weather, higher demand, smaller yields and crops diverted to biofuels. Volatile weather patterns often attributed to climate change are wreaking havoc with some harvests. Heavy rains in Australia damaged wheat to the extent that much of its usually high-quality crop has been downgraded to feed, experts noted.

Hard to disagree, though it’s odd they omitted the devastating heat wave that caused Russia to suspend grain exports from last summer through the end of their growing season this year.  It’s also odd that the NYT omits the run-up in oil prices, which is a major contributor to the agricultural prices.

ClimateWire has two pieces today.  The first, “Food prices hit record high after a year of severe crop damage” (subs. req’d) notes “average food prices around the world are higher than they were in the summer of 2008, when price shocks sparked riots in some parts of the world and governments scrambled to come up with a response.”  The story explains source of the price hikes:

Drought, floods and wildfires devastate crops

FAO’s chart of the food price index’s recent history shows that the current upward march in prices began in the summer of 2010, when Russia and Canada both reportedly lost 20 percent of their wheat crops each to drought and wildfires. Devastation to crops caused by historic flooding in Pakistan only exacerbated price trends.

January’s increase mostly reflects spikes in wheat and corn prices. The wheat price spike apparently reflected damage to croplands caused by torrential monsoon flooding in northeastern Australia, which was hit again by what news reports characterized as the strongest cyclone to ever hit that nation.

Maximo Torero, director of markets, trade and institutions at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), acknowledged that the recent weather extremes in Australia and aftereffects of the problems in Russia and Pakistan have made wheat prices more volatile.

The second story, “Rising food prices helped spark Middle East unrest” (subs. req’d)

High food prices brought about by climate change have helped fuel the current unrest in the Middle East, the United Kingdom’s global warming envoy said yesterday.

John Ashton, the British foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change, called recent flooding and other weather events that sent cereal and wheat prices soaring through much of the world one of many factors in the already-fraught Middle East, where protests in Tunisia toppled the government and violent clashes continue in Egypt.

“The spark that lit the tinder in Tunisia was anger over rising food prices,” Ashton said in an interview with a small group of journalists.

“You can see that food prices is one of the things people have been concerned about, not only in Tunisia. I’m not saying climate change is the only factor, or even the main factor, for what we’re seeing in a number of Middle Eastern countries….” [C]limate change is a “stress multiplier” that will not diminish.

I had noted in my last piece, “High food prices are contributing to MidEast unrest,” the Washington Post headline (1/14):  “Spike in global food prices contributes to Tunisian violence” and the Guardian headline (1/15): “Jordanians protest against soaring food prices.”  And Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House, who was interviewed at Davos (click here) said the Egyptian riots “were driven partly of course by the rise of food prices.”

Slate‘s piece explains in detail how higher food prices are helping to fuel unrest in Egypt, “Protesting on an Empty Stomach.”  One of the Atlantic’s two pieces, “The Economics of Egypt’s Revolt,”  provides us this amazing chart (via Business Insider’s piece, “Egypt’s Economic Tragedy In 3 Simple Charts“):


That piece concludes:

It is not destiny that an impoverished population slammed by rising food prices will rise up against its political leadership. It is also not altogether unexpected. The fires and protests we’re seeing on television are part of a political movement whose spark was an economic crisis.

Obviously the country is more vulnerable to food inflation than others, since people are already paying such a high percentage of their income on food.

A second Atlantic piece notes:

Just as Tunisia’s crisis was beginning, economist Nouriel Roubini was warning the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that if countries weren’t worried about food prices now, they should because commodities prices– meaning items like wheat, sugar, and coffee, as well as the more headline-grabbing oil and gas–can be the tipping point when it comes to stability. “What has happened in Tunisia and is happening right now in Egypt, but also the riots in Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan are related not only to high unemployment rates and to income and wealth inequality, but also to the very sharp rise in food and commodity prices,” he says.

Oxfam just put out its analysis:

Teetering on the edge

Food prices are just one of many factors contributing to the situation in Egypt, but they have helped provide a spark for recent unrest across the region. It is exactly this mix of poverty and injustice that puts global stability at risk.

When the UN Food and Agriculture Organization announced January 5th of this year that food prices had reached an all time high, my colleague Gawain Kripke warned that, “the record rise in food prices is a grave reminder that until we act on the underlying causes of hunger and climate change, we will find ourselves perpetually on the knife’s edge of disaster.” A year of extreme weather, along with other short and long-term factors, had shocked our food system, disrupting supply chains and sending the price of many food items through the roof. Just days later rioters in Algeria were heard chanting, “Give us sugar!” as they kicked off a new wave of sometimes violent protests that haven shaken the tenuous foundation of stability across North Africa and the Middle East.

Scientific American has a powerful piece, “Are high food prices fueling revolution in Egypt?” which notes:

Even with government subsidies and ration cards for bread, the true price of wheat in Egypt is nearly 30 percent higher today than it was a year ago””thanks to global prices for that staple cereal that have increased nearly 80 percent in the same span….

Back in 2008, skyrocketing wheat prices prompted bread riots in Egypt””and the government reacted with an expanded subsidy program that has kept food prices relatively stable….

Obviously, the current revolution in Egypt did not have one cause, but there is no doubt that rising food prices added fuel to an already combustible mix. And it is also clear that Egypt””and Tunisia before it””are not alone; world food prices in January were close to surpassing December’s levels, which were record highs and above those that prompted food riots in 2008, according to FAO. That could ultimately prove more destabilizing to regimes than any invasion or other calamity. Already countries such as Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Yemen have been snapping up supplies of wheat in the world market to forestall any hint of food price spikes””or regime change.

The leaders of countries in the region understand the importance of stable food prices in maintaining political order.

So, yes, the spike in food prices is one key contributing factor to the political unrest we are seeing now.  And yes, key contributing factors to higher food prices are dreadful energy policies and extreme weather.  I have previously discussed at great length how many of the leading climate experts have explained the link between climate change and extreme weather (see here).

More extreme heat waves are one of the most basic predictions of climate science.  Tamino calculated (at length) that global warming made the Moscow heat wave roughly eight times more likely:  “Without global warming, this once-in-a-century-or-two event would have been closer to a once-in-a-millenium event.”

And it’s always worth repeating the explanation NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth provided me on the climate-deluge link:

… 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.”

For more, see my new piece in the UK’s Guardian:

How extreme weather could create a global food crisis

2010 was among the hottest and wettest years on record – we are entering a period of climate and food insecurity

ClimateProgress will continue to report on this important story.  If people don’t understand current and future impacts, then we can have little chance of achieving a broad consensus for mitigation — and no hope of planning for adaptation.

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45 Responses to Expert consensus grows on contribution of record high food prices to Middle East unrest

  1. Colorado Bob says:

    The Feb 1st US Drought Monitor, note the dry conditions in the winter wheat belt.

  2. Aaron Lewis says:

    Does all this affect the US? Does the US produce as much food as it did a couple of years ago? Read it and weep:

    We can put that in context by looking at : and we see that last year’s wheat harvest was only 78% of the 1982 US wheat harvest. With wheat production issues in other parts of the world and a rising population, we should expect higher prices for bread.

    In the 1980s and 90s, we saw several years that had bumper crops of wheat. We have not had a bumper crop of wheat in several years. Sorghum crops are running about half what they were in 1996. Only corn is way above historic levels of production. However, since a quarter of that corn goes to fuel production, corn for food, has not risen.

    All in all, do not expect increased food production from the US to reduce global food prices. And, American farmers are as much at the mercy of extreme weather as other farmers around the world.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    There is another cyclone forming near Fiji –

    RA – The Western Division experienced heavy rain and thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon.

    In Ra, the Naseyani River swelled and almost broke its banks while in Lautoka creeks and drains overflowed.

    The downpour and adverse weather conditions are because of a tropical depression located northeast of the Fiji Group which is likely to intensify into a tropical cyclone by the weekend.

  4. I believe the pentagon also was concerned about food insecurity, among other things, leading to government insecurity.

    Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

    Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security

    Also, there seems to be a looming peak fish… which is disturbing because such a large percentage of Earth’s people rely on the sea for protein.

    Failing fisheries and increased demand damaging food security: WWF

  5. Scrooge says:

    I appreciated the guardian article. Its pretty much what I have been preaching to my kids and grandkids for the last year. We can talk and argue about future catastrophes and people can sacrifice a lot if required but being hungry is not one of them and the price of food effects everyone.

  6. paulm says:

    Stand back and look at the big picture….what a year its been.

    so do we really think that we will survive a 2C warming?
    Nope. There is going to be utter chaos by the time 1C comes knocking.

    In fact 2012 is predicted to be warmer than 2012(Hansen) and anyone want to bet that this will be Armageddon in terms of societal breakdown.

    I guess Obama is going to have to implement a state of emergency one way or another….

    Looks like the answer to Lester Brown question ….. is Yes.
    “Will food be the prompt for the world to take the action science tells us is needed to live sustainably on this planet?”
    Will climate change burst the global ‘food bubble’?

  7. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Winter wheat is suffering where the snow missed.–2772.html

    Yasi will affect the price of sugar.

    Eli Rabett has done a piece on Panama Virus tropical race 4 that is affecting the world’s Cavendish bananas.

    Colorado Bob keeps telling us of weather disasters on a daily basis so many of which not not reach our attention otherwise.

    The impending shortage of phosphorus is not going to help.

    Floods are still happening in Eastern Australia. Drought in the West.
    Not so many stories of bumper harvests.

    Then to make matters much worse peak oil.

  8. Michael Tucker says:

    Yes the high prices are causing a load of unrest in many countries. Yes the chaotic weather has increased scarcity causing prices to rise. But another issue is Wall Street speculators. We trade food like oil and many economists are saying that is also contributing to the price spikes. I have heard that speculation may be responsible for as much as 50% of the increase.

    There had been a regulation in place, called a position limit, that was responsible for stabilizing food prices and it worked fairly well up until it was repealed. When was the regulation put into place? Why, it was FDR who signed it into law during the Great Depression. When was it repealed? It happened during the Clinton administration. Yeah, he did make some mistakes too.

    This weekend marks the Gipper’s 100th birthday; the Great Deregulator. I think it might be informative to list all the Depression era financial regulations that have been repealed along with all the financial difficulties and disasters that occurred. I’m not saying Reagan or even Clinton is responsible for our problems BUT we need to learn from our mistakes. Some of the deregulation that has taken place has been a benefit to the economy but some clearly has not. If the repeal of the position limit has exacerbated food price instability maybe we should consider a repeal of the repeal.

  9. Pythagoras says:

    There is entire post without mention once of the high population growth rates in Egypt and the Middle East at large. According to the CIA Fact Book, the fertility rate in Egypt still averages 3.01 children per women. The population growth rate is 1.997%, which means population doubles before 2050 if it remains constant. Thirty-three (33%) of the population is less than 14-years old. The economic prospects for the youth in the country are not promising.

    Similarly in Saudi Arabia, the population under the age of 14 years stands at 38% of the total population. The fertility rate has declined to 2.35 births per woman but that will not balance the inertia of a extremely young population.

    It is a Malthusian disaster in the making.

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    Does Anyone Know?

    Does anyone know whether The New York Times gave any coverage whatsoever to the recent letter from concerned scientists to all members of Congress — the letter covered here on CP just a couple days ago? I’ve stopped buying The New York Times, except on Tuesdays, so I didn’t see whether they covered the letter or not. Thanks.


  11. Mike says:

    It is a good sign that people in the Middle East are responding to the crises (climate, population & financial) by demanding more democracy. That hasn’t been the case in the U.S. so far. We should think about how we can change that. The climate crisis should provoke us to think about what changes we need to have a better informed and empowered citizenry. Can we really afford to let 41 Senators block progress? Can we afford to let corporations pour money into politicians pockets? Can we afford to cut back on schools and have public universities issue meaningless degrees? The only reason Fox News is not laughed off the air (or cable) is the poor quality of education people have been given.

  12. Douglas says:

    Mike touches on this a bit, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that (so far at least) what is happening in Egypt is a *good* thing.

    A much scarier precedent will be if food prices lead to the overthrow of legitimate democracy.

  13. Bob Lang says:

    Who cares about sugar.

    Haven’t had sugar in the house for decades. Ditto for high-sugar “foods”, such as soft drinks.

    Don’t miss it a bit.

    Besides, refined sugar causes high blood cholesterol.

  14. paulm says:

    Bang, bang, bang.

    Sounds like were hitting the ceiling.

    “How extreme weather could create a global food crisis”

    Joe this title is out of date….”is creating”

  15. catman306 says:

    Rabid Doomsayer:

    “Winter wheat is suffering where the snow missed.”

    This kind of extreme event diminishes crop output but doesn’t make the news. It’s SUPPOSED to snow in the areas where winter wheat is grown. This lack of snow might be attributable to the weakened polar vortex and thus to global warming.

    Maybe EVERY extreme weather event could be linked by the media to global warming in a similar way, but they don’t want to. Their bosses won’t let them.

    The mild winter in Canada is every bit as much an extreme weather event as the Ground Hog’s Day blizzard. It’s just not as TV newsworthy.

  16. Wit's End says:

    Excuse me, but every species of tree, and every annual agricultural crop, is in the fast lane towards extinction.

    It’s quite simple why.

    We are filling the atmosphere with toxic volatile organic compounds from burning fuel, which disrupt the ability of vegetation to photosynthesize. Plants that exist by absorbing Co2 and exhaling oxygen are expiring, and unfortunately, plants are the base of the food chain – including phytoplankton, in the oceans.

    If we don’t stop filling the air with invisible, poisonous gases from dirty sources of energy, humans will be next on the list of extinctions, and fairly soon.

    That is why crop yields are diminished, and prices are rising, and riots are ensuing.

    The developed world, that is utterly reliant on industrial agriculture with huge inputs of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, and fertilizers, not to mention long-distance transport, is about to collapse in a very unpleasant scenario kinda like “The Road.”

    Maybe we could recoil from destruction, if we all, collectively, smartened up. That doesn’t seem likely but hey, check out GWEN, and try because…why not?

  17. Colorado Bob says:

    RD @ 9 –
    Another link from that page –

    US attaches have cut hopes of Argentina easing the squeeze on world corn and soybean supplies, warning that rains came too late to prevent extensive crop damage from a two-month dry spell.

    Expectations which the US Department of Agriculture currently holds that Argentina will raise its corn harvest this year, look set to be dashed, farm attaches in Buenos Aires said in a report.

    “Nearly 60% of the [sown] area had already been severely affected by the lack of rain during its critical flowering period from December 2010 to mid-January 2011,” the briefing said.

    “As a result a great deal of yield will be forfeited.”–2781.html

  18. Steven Leibo says:

    I don’t know how many other professional historians there on this list but reading speculative pieces on how rising food prices can help cause political uprisings would probably come under the category of “Well… duh…” for most scholars of world history.

    Steven A. Leibo Ph.D.
    Professor of International History & Politics
    The Sage Colleges

  19. Colorado Bob says:

    While the immediate danger of the ex-cyclone is passing, rain is still falling in the area where it crossed the coast with fury.

    Cairns Airport recorded 269mm of rain and Sweeney Creek, near Innisfail, recorded 237mm since 9am (AEST) yesterday, a spokesman said.

    The deluge comes on top of figures like 464mm of rain recorded at Hawkins Creek, near Ingham, in the 24 hours before 9am yesterday – and weeks of heavy rainfall before.

    Read more:

  20. Colorado Bob says:

    The national loop out of Australia , it is raining like hell north east of Adelaide , and it’s not moving –

  21. Lewis C says:

    Besides impacting the production of food worldwide, climate destabilization has begun to have an equally serious impact on food’s affordability, namely that of society’s impoverishment via economic destabilization. The current indicators, this early in the exponential curve of global warming’s consequences, are the prices of coking coal and iron ore, and their impacts on world steel prices.

    From “”

    Australian floods spark a further rise to cost of steel

    Wednesday, February 02, 2011, 09:00

    THE severe flooding in Queensland, Australia, has led to a further price rise for structural sections produced at the Tata Steel works in Scunthorpe.
    The latest hike of £95 a tonne from March 6 is the second increase so far this year and almost double the previous rise implemented on January 2.
    Mick Maloney, Tata’s commercial manager for sections, blamed the extreme floods for prices in coal and other raw materials rising beyond anticipated levels.
    Spot prices for coking coal from Australia are reported to have jumped 56 per cent in the last year to $270 a tonne, while iron ore has also shot up by 38 per cent to $182 a tonne.
    The price hikes for raw materials come in the wake of a new global steel production record level of 1.4 billion tonnes last year.
    Demand is expected to increase even further this year.
    Mr Maloney said: “The recent extreme flooding in Queensland has led spot prices in coal and other raw materials markets, which were already suffering from chronic structural supply side constraints, to rise beyond anticipated levels.
    ” The steel supply chain has no choice but to take robust action to recover these rapid increases in raw materials costs.”
    “Tata Steel has written to its sections customers to inform them of the March increase.”
    Industry experts believe the latest hike will take the price of the steel from Scunthorpe to more than £600 a tonne.

    This hike in the price of steel of around 20% as direct outcome of the Queensland floods demonstrates just how vulnerable the global economy is to such impacts. The billion people most impoverished by our viciously callous geo-economic system are not the most exposed in this case; it is over-industrialized wealthy nations who will find the prospect of getting out of recession vapourizing with this scale of price rises in the most basic of commodities.

    I suggest that it’s high time that we should regularly describe both the direct casualties and losses and the consequent financial damages imposed by climate destabilization (due of course to the nations’ cumulative carbon debts) as “Mother Nature’s Price on Carbon”.

    Those who are having to move from simple denial of global warming into denial of its anthropogenic cause and, increasingly, into denial of the resulting climate destabilization by claiming that increasingly severe and frequent mega-impacts are merely random events, deserve an extended title for their efforts. I suggest that “Flukist Deniers” will label them handily given the rising curve of such dire events.

    Meanwhile, I wonder if any of the scientists reading this, or any scientific contact of ordinary readers, might be willing to describe the fabulous box in which the El Nino twins reportedly reside in splendid isolation from the effects of the observed long term warming of the Pacific Ocean, which just happens to be their playground ?

    If no such box is known to science, isn’t it about bloody time that scientists came out and said so loud, clear, bluntly, and often ?



  22. Colorado Bob says:

    Lewis C –

    ENERGY Resources of Australia (ERA) suffered its biggest one-day share slump in two years, after the uranium miner said heavy Northern Territory rain was expected to wipe out nearly a full quarter of this year’s production and would result in no final dividend for 2010.

  23. Joan Savage says:

    Let’s include the situation and role of China, which recently moved toward price controls on food.

    “But even a prolonged drought in China appears highly unlikely to cause acute food shortages. China has spent years accumulating very large government reserves of grain and also has $2.85 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, giving it virtually unlimited ability to import food as long as major grain producers do not limit exports.”
    from “Crops Wither and Prices Rise in Chinese Drought” By KEITH BRADSHER Published: February 3, 2011 in New York Times on line.

  24. JonS says:

    From the Australian ABC News:
    The Federal Government is being urged to set up a National Food Security Agency to help reverse declining agricultural productivity.

    The Government has been told agricultural productivity has fallen in the past decade, largely because of cuts to research and development funding.

    A report prepared by the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council says Australia could become a net importer of food if the country’s population continues to grow and climate change cuts agricultural production.

    The report also warns that international food shortages are likely to become more severe.

    The council’s chairman, Professor Peter Langridge, says Australia needs to return to the levels of investment in agriculture that were occurring in the 1970s and 1980s.

    He says international food shortages could have national security implications.

    “This is going to have a big impact upon stability in our region – political stability on the issue of refugees and so on,” he said.

  25. Prokaryotes says:

    Vulnerabilities, which are impossible with clean tech

    Egypt gas pipeline attacked, Israel flow hit

    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saboteurs blew up a pipeline that runs through Egypt’s North Sinai, state television said, disrupting flows to Israel, after Islamist groups called on militants to exploit the unrest that has rocked the government.

    State television quoted an official on Saturday as saying that the “situation is very dangerous and explosions were continuing from one spot to another” along the pipeline.

  26. Prokaryotes says:

    Egyptian turmoil helping to lift oil, food prices
    (AP) – 49 minutes ago
    WASHINGTON (AP) — The standoff in Egypt and uncertainty about where it will lead is causing global economic jitters. It’s already pushing up the price of oil and food, and there’s no telling how long the turmoil will last.
    The big worry is that popular uprisings and revolution will spread to Egypt’s rich autocratic neighbors who control much of the world’s oil supply.

    Becoming oil independent just grow massively in importance, when it comes to economic growth and energy security. This situation is yet another eerie moment to switch to clean tech.

  27. JohnV says:

    Victorians on alert for more flooding

    Victorian communities have been warned to prepare for more rain and flash flooding as the remnants of ex-tropical cyclones Anthony and Yasi cause havoc across the state.

    The State Emergency Service (SES) is struggling to cope as it deals with almost 5,000 calls for help. It has already carried out nearly 90 rescues.

    Koo Wee Rup and other towns South east of Melbourne are being advised to evacuate by 9:30 pm AEST as flood waters rise.

    towns of Creswick and Clunes, in central Victoria, which are facing their fourth flood in five months.

    The town of Rochester, in northern Victoria, is facing a tense wait to see if the town is flooded again.

    Meanwhile in Sydney: “THE cool change expected this afternoon cannot come soon enough for Sydney residents, who suffered a record-breaking seventh day of temperatures topping 30 degrees yesterday. ”

    Weird weather in Eastern Australia.

    Nowweare getting MSM articles asking if there is a link to global warming.

  28. Mark says:

    This interview suggested climate change was less of a problem for food prices. But my own feeling is that he doesn’t really explore in depth the impact of regional weather extremes which we know kick in early even with modest global changes, or the difficulty of readjusting for regional changes in productivity and the economic dislocations that will entail. It looks like corn in the USA will experience problems though, and I have seen similar work suggesting high temperatures may impact on rice in the tropics.

  29. Raul M. says:

    Retired cosmologists might find the new
    Studies of aerosols interesting. There is
    New knowledge as to types and results
    In the weather and climate symbiosis.

  30. Paulm says:

    Re 27 John,

    The average household bill will rise by $130 a year under applications to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal yesterday. The rise is about twice that already approved.

    EnergyAustralia is seeking a $56 rise for the average customer to cover costs incurred this financial year from the federal government’s renewable energy scheme.

    Another $73 is to cover the costs of carbon reduction schemes for 2011-12, taking the rise for each household to $129 a year from July 1.

    Integral Energy and Country Energy are seeking similar rises.

    The decision to shelve the carbon pollution reduction scheme will result in households paying more for their electricity than if it had gone ahead.

  31. Paulm says:
    CYCLONE YASI is probably early real-world evidence of scientific predictions that global warming will lead to more extreme weather events, according to the government’s expert climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut.

    He says that if it is, given the evidence that global warming is tracking at the highest end of international predictions, then future cyclones could prove that we ”ain’t seen nothing yet”.

  32. Joan Savage says:

    As global food supply destabilizes due to climate forcing, the need to transport food from areas of bounty to areas of need becomes critical.

    How ironic to need ships which are usually powered by fossil fuel to accomplish food re-distribution, either as emergency humanitarian relief or as re-aligned trade partnerships.

    The mantra of “grow local” is fine as long as the local climate is cooperating. But if not, what then?

    The on-demand business model, which eliminated unprofitable stockpiles, may need major revision, with increased instability of supply such as Australian sugar or coal.

  33. Paulm says:

    Truly chaotic world weather. Scary….
    Freezing weather and snow have paralysed much of northern Mexico, which is experiencing its lowest temperatures in more than 50 years.

    Cold snap chills northern Mexico

    The big freeze has forced schools to close
    “There have been cold temperatures in the past, but nothing that has lasted for so many days. It’s been 40 years since the city has seen an emergency like this,” city’s civil protection chief Efren Matamoros told Reuters news agency.

    The cold weather has shut down units at 17 power stations across northern Mexico, the Federal Electricity Commission said.

    Factories have been asked to reduce their consumption of power, and there have been blackouts in some areas.

    Mexico has also withdrawn an offer to temporarily supply electricity to Texas, where power stations have been hit by similar problems.

  34. Heraclitus says:

    The Economist seems to agree as well:

    “The high cost of food is one reason that protesters took to the streets in Tunisia and Egypt. The price of bread has shot up since last summer when a drought in Russia, one of the world’s largest wheat suppliers, hit harvests and prompted an export ban.”

  35. dhogaza says:

    Krugman said something great in his most recent column about food prices, egypt, and Russian wheat …

    Obligatory disclaimer: no one event can be definitively assigned to climate change, just as you can’t necessarily claim that any one of the fender-benders taking place right now in central New Jersey was caused by the sheet of black ice currently coating our roads.

    snark! :)

  36. Peter Robinson says:

    Forty years ago, I left my position at Motorola Semiconductor Products in Phoenix, Arizona. I left because it seemed that Motorola only focused on profit at the expense of the employees, in particular me, who had 10 % of the patent disclosures for the entire division.

    I left Motorola and moved to my 115 acre farm, 90 miles North of Phoenix. It was an incredibly difficult time to earn enough money to pay my mortgage and support myself and two children.

    I made it through and I am now working to be a source of food for the local community.

    I would like to point out that if we take the global production of food and divide it by the global population we arrive at a certain quanity of food in the average diet. Subsidies, etc, do nothing to change this number. The only way to change this number is to do things like reduce the non human consuption of food. Bio-fuels only exacerbate the problem. We can eat less meat so that others can eat what was fed to the cattle. And the obese can reduce their food consumption so another person does not starve to death.

    Subsidies and such move the problem to another population group. They do nothing to solve the basic problem. We could do things like eliminate food waste. This could be done by forbidding the throwing away of food waste. Increase the price of a McDonald’s Happy meal to the balnnce point where people did not buy more food than they could eat!

    I think that it is pointless to try to solve the problem from the top. Any man who is president of the US is going to respond to the rich people that gave the money to put him in office.

    My strategy is to solve the problem from the bottom up. I will grow food and teach others how to grow food. If I sell fancy tamales with meat at a premium price, I will also offer my version of the happy meal, which has a balance of grain and legumes to provide a complete protein content. Add some salad and veggies and the desperate senior who is now buying cat food for their protein can have a tasty and healthy meal.

    It would be interesting to examine the calorie intake per person as it correlates with their degree of obesity. It is withoud doubt that the fat person eats more calories to become fat. But once they are fat how many calories do they consume? My guess is that the fat person eats more calories once they are fat. I don’t like the idea of telling people what they must do. But if the alternative is that we all die in food riots, global instability and war; I will accept control over how many calories I am allowed!

    I have short sighted friends who crow about democracy vs socialism. For them we need to explain that it is socialism or death.

    If anyone would like to comment to me directly on this or to join in my efforts I can be contacted at


  37. Inflationwatch says:

    Speculation versus supply shock?

    Here are two posts on world food prices.


    ..and a response

    [JR: The speculation argument is a bit weak. Russia still has had a grain export ban in effect since August. It isn’t speculation to think that food prices would go up, particularly as more and more extreme weather events hit and the price of oil spiked. Moreover, it’s important to distinguish between speculation and hoarding. As SciAm noted, “Already countries such as Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Yemen have been snapping up supplies of wheat in the world market to forestall any hint of food price spikes—or regime change.”]

  38. Wit's End says:

    Peter Robinson:

    It might be a good idea for you to look into the underlying cause of obesity.

    Yes…people eat junk, because junk is cheaper.

    They are advertised to death to eat twinkies instead of beans and whole grains and fresh vegetables.

    But, there is considerably more to it. Our water, food, and air are poisoned with chemicals and drugs that are endocrine disrupters. They mess with our ability to absorb nutrients, they cause people to gain pounds, because their metabolism is disrupted.

    Go ahead, google it!

  39. GFW says:

    Dropped in to mention that Krugman agrees with you … and a couple of people already beat me to it. So, I’ll add this bit of humor from the comments on Krugman’s blog post “Oh noes!!! You said climate change. Now you’ll be discredited.”

  40. Mike says:


    See link from there in UN report. The fish yield issue should be part of any food security discussion. 20% of human protein intake comes from fish.

  41. Ric Merritt says:

    Yes, it is odd, in a way, that the NYT doesn’t make the oil connection when discussing key resources. But it conforms to their long-time habit.

    Their climate coverage has been behind the 8-ball for a long time, though I detect some improvements in the last year or so, which I hope continue.

    But even a sharp-eyed reader would be hard put to find out in the pages of the Times that oil production has been near stagnant since 2005, or that this is big news.

  42. Joe #39 I have made the case for speculation for playing a major role in the food price bubble in my two-part series for IPS citing Lester Brown, Olivier De Schutter and other experts. I have written about food and climate connections for years but climate isn’t the main driver of change yet. The global food system we’re created is complex and dysfunctional when it comes to feeding everyone.

    Part one
    In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold

    Part two
    Rampant Speculation Inflated Food Price Bubble

    [JR: The problem with your theory is that there is no way to prove it, or to explain why it occurred when it did.

    “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.”

    So Russia was duped into acting against its own interests? That borders on unprovable conspiracy theory.

    Russia understands what happens when you can’t feed your people. You’ve missed the boat on what is happening with Russia’s current harvest and Canada and Australia and the rest of the world. Also, Mideast countries are hoarding.]

  43. It’s not my theory. It’s what the experts I interviewed said. As for Russia, whose interests are you referring to the leadership?, the Russian agrifood industry, the public? These are often competing interests even the US.

    In any case, there is evidence the grain companies lobbied for an export ban.

    “The government should set a temporary ban on grain exports immediately; it should set a ban rather than an export duty because a duty doesn’t qualify as force major for exporters,” Nikolai Demyanov, deputy chief executive officer of International Grain Co.

    That the Russian govt succumbed to lobbying isn’t so unique or surprising esp when framed as the only way to ease pressure on domestic prices. Finally this was never a question of feeding the Russian people, they had at least 21 million tonnes in their grain reserve.

    The 2010-11 grain harvest is forecast to be down slightly from the 2009-10 near-record high. (Jan 21st 2011

    It isn’t a supply problem (yet).

    [JR: Yeah, it’s never a supply problem, until it is. And, as the WSJ said, the Russian grain harvest for this year is up in the air due to the drought, so I’ll believe the forecast when it actually happens.

    I’m not inherently against conspiracy theories, but it just happens to be a weak predictor. It also requires you to ignore pretty much gazillions of food experts quoted here and what’s actually been happening outside of Russia. Speculators always play a role, but the notion that they spin crises out of thin air is a weak one.

    Talk to Lester Brown. Most of the long-term trends are in the wrong direction, so we are increasingly going to be squeezed and triggers like extreme weather will set things off. The fact that speculators — folks who think the price will keep going up — play in the market has always been the case. But, of course, if one is making an investment based on one’s understanding of the underlying trends, is that speculation?]