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Monday, February 07, 2011

Paul Krugman: Droughts, Floods and Food

Are we getting the "first taste" of the political and economic upheaval we'll face if we don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions?:

Droughts, Floods and Food, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January... These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low..., but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn’t so much why they’re happening as why they’re happening now. And there’s little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what’s behind the price spike? American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is “blood on Bernanke’s hands.” Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of “extortion and pillaging.” ...

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom... But ...  food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck. ...

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.

The question then becomes, what’s behind all this extreme weather?

To some extent we’re seeing the results of a natural phenomenon, La Niña— a periodic event in which water in the equatorial Pacific becomes cooler than normal. La Niña events have historically been associated with global food crises...

But that’s not the whole story. ... As always, you can’t attribute any one weather event to greenhouse gases. But the pattern we’re seeing, with extreme highs and extreme weather in general becoming much more common, is just what you’d expect from climate change.

The usual suspects will, of course, go wild over suggestions that global warming has something to do with the food crisis; those who insist that Ben Bernanke has blood on his hands tend to be more or less the same people who insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy.

But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now 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.

    Posted by on Monday, February 7, 2011 at 12:29 AM in Economics, Environment, Politics | Permalink  Comments (156)


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