Anne-Marie Slaughter, Caitlin Werrell, and Francesco Femia have released The Arab Spring and Climate Change, but they stop short of saying that drought in the region and climate events elsewhere caused the Arab Spring:
“The Arab Spring and Climate Change” does not argue that climate change caused the revolutions that have shaken the Arab world over the past two years. But the essays collected in this slim volume make a compelling case that the consequences of climate change are stressors that can ignite a volatile mix of underlying causes that erupt into revolution.
This is a giant hedge, and when examined closely, as is the case in the collected essays, the evidence for a causal linkage is pretty solid.
All of these authors [the contributors to the report] are admirably cautious in acknowledging the complexity of the events they are analyzing and the difficulty of drawing precise causal arrows. But consider the following statements:
- “A once-in-a-century winter drought in China contributed to global wheat shortages and skyrocketing bread prices in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer.” (Sternberg, p. 7)
- “Of the world’s major wheat-importing companies per capita, “the top nine importers are all in the Middle East; seven had political protests resulting in civilian deaths in 2011.” (Sternberg, p. 12)
- “The world is entering a period of ‘agflation,’ or inflation driven by rising prices for agricultural commodities.” (Johnstone and Mazo, p. 21)
- “Drought and desertification across much of the Sahel—northern Nigeria, for example, is losing 1,350 square miles a year to desertification—have undermined agricultural and pastoral livelihoods,” contributing to urbanization and massive flows of migrants. (Werz and Hoffman, p. 37)
- “As the region’s population continues to climb, water availability per capita is projected to plummet. … Rapid urban expansion across the Arab world increasingly risks overburdening existing infrastructure and outpacing local capacities to expand service.” (Michel and Yacoubian, p. 45)
- “We have reached the point where a regional climate event can have a global extent.” (Sternberg, p. 10)
In September 2011, I wrote here,
Youthful hope may soon change into embittered and obdurate anger, unless structural changes in the economy take place, not just a series of political coups unseating pharaonic despots.The Arab Spring has been mythologized into a renaissance of suppressed people, catalyzed by the agency of social media. An uplifting passion play, suitable for several upcoming major motion pictures, I am sure. But for those that are looking closely into the drivers of the unrest there, you will find deep unemployment caused by rising food prices tied to long-term drought in the entire region and food production problems elsewhere. The transition of power that will follow won’t turn Libya and Egypt into Spain and Portugal, after the fall of their fascist regimes. Tunis and Cairo won’t morph into Westernism with something like parliamentary democracies, closely integrated into a neoliberal world, the way that Madrid and Lisbon managed to do. So I suggest that the heated rhetoric about those countries be cooled for a bit, until we can see the shape of what emerges. Most importantly, the drought, high food prices, and endemic unemployment and lack of opportunity for the youth of the Arab world has not been banished with Mubarak and Gaddafi. They will be with us for a long time to come. And youthful hope may soon change into embittered and obdurate anger, unless structural changes in the economy take place, not just a series of political coups unseating pharaonic despots.
It’s increasingly clear that the drought is continuing, perhaps even worsening, and climate-related agriculture problems in other places — like the worsening droughts in the US and China — are leading to a rise in food prices worldwide, which will continue food price pressures in the Arab world and elsewhere.