Climate Change, food prices, violence and Arab Revolts

Damian Carrington has two interesting articles in the Guardian today. The first article,  “Are food prices approaching a violent tipping point?”  summarizes a “provocative new study suggest[ing] the timing of the Arab uprisings is linked to global food price spikes, and that prices will soon permanently be above the level which sparks conflicts”.  The second article, “Climate cycles linked to civil war, analysis shows“, also summarizes another recent study which shows that Changes in the global climate that cut food production triggered one-fifth of civil conflicts between 1950 and 2004.

What both of these studies show is not very surprising, even though the fact that they can demonstrate what they argue statistically might help convince a few skeptics (I actually doubt that, but it’s worth a try!). Of course, it had long been suggested that high food prices are linked to Climate Change directly and indirectly, through crop failure and the diversion of crop for bio-fuels. For example, crop failures in Russia caused by to the very hot summer of 2010 and persistent droughts (which have probably been exacerbated by Climate Change) have triggered a rise in the global food prices. Another driver has been the increasing use of corn in countries such as the USA to produce bio-fuels. In Washington DC, big ads claim that “Ethanol reduced gasoline prices by $0.89 a gallon in 2010”; this is perhaps true, though I doubt these figures consider the energy imput that were needed to grow that ethanol in the first place, and thus the figure is probably much lower or perhaps even negative), but what this add does NOT say is that by converting corn to produce ethanol we have also increased the price of food to unprecedented levels!!.

This is why I continue to believe — as I have argued in a recent article and soon to be published book — that the way we use fossil fuels is not moral and is likely to be looked upon by future generations as something as bad as slavery. We already knew that oil is directly causing conflicts in many parts of the world. But by burning excessive amounts of fossil fuels and causing climate change, or by converting food that could feed the poor into biofuels to satisfy the thirst of the bottomless tanks of our gas guzzlers, we now know that we are also indirectly causing wars and conflicts in other parts of the world.

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