Egypt Revolt about democracy, or climate change?
The startling events in Egypt over the last month are widely seen as a fight for democracy. Certainly, the frustration with the 30 year autocratic Mubarak regime was the focus of the demands. The analysis that many have overlooked, is the underlying pressure may have originated with climate change.
As noted in the highly regarded ECONOMIST Magazine, rising food prices had a big role in creating support for the recent protests that ultimately toppled the government.
Unusual weather patterns have had a significant impact on wheat crops and Egypt is a big importer. Prices almost doubled in the last year causing severe hardship for millions of people living at the poverty level.
Crop yields have been hurt badly from Russia, to Brazil, to Australia. In Russia the severe fires, unprecedented in history, were connected to changing climate patterns according to President Medvedev. Russia suddenly ceased wheat exports causing prices to spike. The drought in Brazil and the epic floods in Australia also destroyed crops, raising global prices.
The increasing patterns of abnormal weather are being tied to climate change with greater certainty. A story in this week's SCIENCE Magazine connects the recent record floods with climate change.
And the connection was cited by John Broder of the New York Times:
The United Nations’ top climate change official said on Tuesday that food shortages and rising prices caused by climate disruptions were among the chief contributors to the civil unrest coursing through North Africa and the Middle East.Carbon dioxide levels are increasing their unrelenting rise. CO2 has a near perfect correlation with global temperature. We are now at 391 ppm of CO2 and climbing 2-3 points a year. During the last million years, the highest level was 280ppm. That was before we started burning large amounts of fossil fuel.
It would be a real stretch to say that burning fossil fuel at the current levels caused the revolt in Egypt. Equally true, it would be dumb to ignore the connections between:
- The simple physics that CO2 increases atmospheric temperature
- A warmer planet means different weather patterns, compared to the last few million years
- Changing weather patterns will affect agriculture and water supplies
- Changing food and water supply will impact the quality of life for the almost 7 billion residents, heading towards 9 billion by the year 2050
- A change in the quality of life can threaten survival
- People threatened with survival will act in unprecedented ways, which has implications for society, governance and national security.
This is only the beginning according to all the models. None of the current proposals actually adopted by governments to deal with greenhouse gas emissions will prevent the temperatures from rising dramatically this century. A good indicator of the current projections can be seen at Climate Interactive's Scoreboard.