Paul Krugman Blames Global Warming for Middle East Uprisings

Extreme weather causes food prices to spike, fueling political unrest, writes Krugman

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In his New York Times column Monday, Paul Krugman attempts to connect the dots between climate change and rising food prices, and between rising food prices and uprisings against Middle East dictatorships. It's obvious, he asserts, that "sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage." While Krugman notes that the increase in food costs is popularly blamed on the Federal Reserve and speculators, he contends that recent severe weather has interfered with farming and "these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we'd expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate--which means that the current food price surge may just be the beginning."

Wheat is just one example of this, with a decrease in world production and doubling in price since last summer. Krugman blames record heat, causing a drought in Moscow. "The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production," he writes. All of these events are the result of La Niña, the periodic cooling of water in the equatorial pacific, he explains, as well as record high temperatures "in no fewer than 19 countries" in 2010. Krugman predicts that the current crisis in Egypt is "a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we'll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come."

Naturally, reactions to Krugman's proposal are split along the ideological lines of the climate change argument.

Krugman Is Perpetuating a Lie to Promote Carbon Tax

  • "Contrary to what alarmists like Krugman claim, the world's temperatures havent increased for twelve years. The only thing that has changed is their argument to tax carbon dioxide emissions," writes Noel Sheppard at News Busters. Sheppard insists the argument that food shortages and thus political uprisings are caused by climate change is simply a tactic for reviving cap-and-trade legislation. "The only conclusion is they will try anything however dishonest to get their wish of taxing carbon dioxide thereby controlling all aspects of commerce and human life while redistributing the wealth from the haves to the have-nots."
  • Bruce McQuain at Questions and Observations agrees with Sheppard, above, that attempting to tie severe weather to food shortages "is a new venue for using scare tactics in an effort to enable government to control and tax something that is absolutely natural." Countering Krugman's comment that those who blame the Federal Reserve for the food crisis "tend to be more or less the same people who insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy," McQuain writes, "all of this has little to do with believing in a 'vast leftist conspiracy'--that's your strawman. It has to do with bad science and the hacks who push it. That would include you, sir."
  • Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek thinks Krugman is too quick to jump to conclusions. He writes:
It's irresponsible for Krugman to ominously predict increasing "disruptions" based on only a recent food-price spike and a few instances of political unrest--especially given that the long-term trend is for extreme weather events to cause less and less human suffering.

Krugman's Argument Makes Sense: Consider Yourself Warned 

  • Acknowledging that global warming deniers would inherently have a problem with Krugman's argument, Gaius Publius at America Blog gives it praise. "Well done, Professor. It may (or may not) be too late to turn the ship, but the guys who kept us on course for collision are still around. Time to address them directly?" he asks.
  • Climate Progress Editor Joe Romm with the argument of  Krugman's column, noting that he, too, has recently focused on the effects of global warming on food production. "If we don't act soon we will see 5 to 10 times as much warming this century as we did last century," Romm warns. "And that is likely to make food insecurity a permanent proposition for billions of people."
  • Perhaps it's especially hard for people in the developing world to acknowledge the connection because we are not as affected by the food crisis. Blogger Prairie Weather points out that, "it's one crisis that's hard for most of us to believe because most of us see plenty of food in our local markets--even those who can't afford most of it."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.