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Scientists Predict That Food Riots Will Grip The Planet Within A Year


September 24, 2012
Timon Singh / Inhabitat.com & Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, Yaneer Bar-Yam / Cornell University Library

A few years ago, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor warned the world’s growing population, shrinking food and water supplies would form a ‘perfect storm’ in 2030 resulting in global food shortages and rioting. The New England Complex Systems Institute believes this is way too optimistic. Complexity theorists now believe that if we don’t reverse the current trend in food prices, we’ve got until August 2013 before social unrest sweeps the planet.

http://inhabitat.com/scientists-predict-that-food-riots-will-grip-the-planet-within-a-year/

(September 15, 2012) -- A few years ago, Sir John Beddington [1], the UK government’s chief scientific advisor stated that with the world’s population growing, food supplies diminishing, and water supplies becoming more scarce, all of these factors would combine to form a ‘perfect storm’ in 2030 resulting in food shortages and rioting. [1]

However, the New England Complex Systems Institute [2] believes he is way too optimistic with his timing. In fact, the complexity theorists think that if we don’t reverse the current trend in food prices, we’ve got until August 2013 before social unrest sweeps the planet.

The team from New England including Marco Lagi say they believe that a single factor will trigger riots around the world within the next 11 months – the price of food. Lagi and his team say that once food prices reach a certain point, social unrest will break out in several countries [3], especially in poorer parts of the world.

The team cite evidence from the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organisation [4], which plots the price of food against time and the date of riots around the world. They’ve even made a graph which shows that when the food prices rises above a certain threshold, riots occur.

There is a saying that states that “every society is only three meals away from revolution”, and it is easy to believe. If food is unobtainable, the fear of starvation will drive people to extreme measures. However, Lagi and his team don’t think that high food prices will solely lead to riots, but will be responsible for creating the conditions in which social unrest can flourish.

“These observations are consistent with a hypothesis that high global food prices are a precipitating condition for social unrest,” said Lagi to Technology Review [5].

What is worse is that food prices seem to be constantly going up due to traders speculating on the price of food, which has gotten worse in recent years by the deregulation of the commodities markets and the removal of trading limits for buyers and sellers. The second is the conversion of corn into ethanol, a practice directly encouraged by subsidies.

Of course, it is the western world, and specifically the US, that is responsible for such subsidies, so if global unrest is to be prevented, major changes are going to have to be made.

Read the full report: The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East [6] + New England Complex Systems Institute [2]

Notes

[1] Sir John Beddington: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8213884.stm

[2] New England Complex Systems Institute : http://necsi.edu/research/social/foodprices/updatejuly2012/

[3] social unrest will break out in several countries: http://inhabitat.comarxiv.org/abs/1108.2455

[4] Food and Agriculture Organisation: http://www.fao.org/index_en.htm

[5] Technology Review: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/425019/the-cause-of-riots-and-the-price-of-food/

[6] Click here to read the full report: The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East: http://arxiv.org/abs/1108.2455

[7] tedeytan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taedc/

[8] Wonderlane: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/



The Food Crises and Political Instability
In North Africa and the Middle East

Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, Yaneer Bar-Yam / Cornell University Library

(Submitted on 11 Aug 2011) -- 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. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012-2013. This implies that avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action.

Full report (pdf, 15 pages)

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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