Monday, 23 November 2015

Our Changing Climate - Food Prices and Social Unrest – we have seen nothing yet


In the complex world we live in, it is not easy to correlate events with factors causing them.  The irony  of climate change is that bad things will happen in the future, but then there will be no possibility of turning back. 

Sea-level rise will seriously affect the world's great coastal cities towards the end of this century, weather will become too hot to live in some places on the Earth in 50 years or more etc.  These problems do not affect us today and it is easy to ignore them – at least that is what we have been doing so far.

Climate change will certainly affect food yields in different parts of the world – some will gain and many more regions will lose out.  It is well documented that the fall of many great civilizations in the past was brought about by changing rain fall patterns and rivers shifting their flow paths – affecting production and availability of food.  
Good food availability is probably the most important factor in maintaining cultures and cohesion in societies.  It is not surprising that sustained years of drought in a region will result in social unrest and riots. Hunger – food becoming too scarce or too expensive - as a driver for social unrest was identified in the 2011 study by the New England Complex Systems Institute. 
 I quote:
‘Social unrest may reflect a variety of factors such as poverty, unemployment, and social injustice. Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food prices. We identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. These observations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments, but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption. Underlying the food price peaks we also find an ongoing trend of increasing prices’

The following slide from their paper is revealing and confirms that food prices are one of the drivers of social unrest. 

(Please click on the slide to view its larger image)



Climate change shall impact adversely on food production and food prices, causing mass migration and shall be the engine for social unrest and rioting in many parts of the world.  To deny this will be irrational. 

In my course on Sustainability I had discussed management of food and water resources.  Nothing much has changed since then except that there is somewhat more realisation that climate change is for real, it is largely due to actions of humans.  Now is the time to start serious action to educate people, conserve energy, reign-in on our unrealistic expectations and above all respect the environment and nature and stop damaging it.

Prince Charles must be applauded for his brave statement and yet again warning the world to mend its ways. 


Will anybody listen?? 

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