Climate change and political upheaval

wheat

Image by NDSU Ag Comm via Flickr

Several months ago, The Nation ran this piece by Christian Parenti entitled “Soaring Food Prices, Wild Weather and a Planetful of Trouble.” He examines the confluence of weather and climate challenges to agriculture, corporate control of commodities, rising food prices, and political unrest, focusing in particular on rising wheat prices and the Arab Spring.

In the article, he describes how “in the summer of 2010 … extreme weather triggered fires that burnt down vast swathes of Russian forests, bleached farmlands, and damaged the country’s breadbasket wheat crop so badly that its leaders (urged on by Western grain speculators) imposed a year-long ban on wheat exports. As Russia is among the top four wheat exporters in any year, this caused prices to surge upward. At the same time, massive flooding occurred in Australia, another significant wheat exporter, while excessive rains in the American Midwest and Canada damaged corn production. Freakishly massive flooding in Pakistan, which put some 20 percent of that country under water, also spooked markets and spurred on the speculators. And that’s when those climate-driven prices began to soar in Egypt. The ensuing crisis, triggered in part by that rise in the price of our loaf of bread, led to upheaval and finally the fall of the country’s reigning autocrat Hosni Mubarak.”

Parenti’s article is an extension of his 2011 book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. In it, he considers recent global history to argue that “climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change instersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters the catastrophic convergence.” You can hear him discuss the book here in an informative interview on TomDispatch.com.

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