Arab Revolts & the Climate Connection

Over at Climate Central, I discuss this recent essay that argues climate change has “played a necessary role” in the uprisings sweeping through the Arab world since January.


Category: climate change, Egypt, food security

The Pale Blue Dot

H/T: Andrew Exum


Category: Carl Sagan, Egypt, Tunisia

The Upside to Global Warming

A climate blogger goes down the yellow brick road:

The Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, has resigned, finally relenting to weeks of massive protests. Is he the latest casualty of climate change?

I think I see an upside that everyone else is missing. If more oppressed populaces, inspired by the Egyptians (who were inspired by the Tunisians), rise up in revolution (chain reaction-like) and send their dictators packing, what might we reasonably conclude?

You guessed it. Global warming helps end tyranny. Finally, a silver lining to runaway climate change!

And the aforementioned climate blogger thought I was one of the “Serious People.” Ha!

But seriously, for those who appreciate nuanced perspectives on the connection between rising food prices and political unrest, check out this recent smart take by Bryan McDonald, a Penn State professor who also has a new book out on food security.


Category: climate change, Egypt, food security

Cramming for a Column

Roger Pielke Jr. notes Paul Krugman’s recent learning curve on Egypt. As I pointed out, it helps if you have the right tutor.


Category: climate change, Egypt, Paul Krugman

The KrugRomm Hybrid

Did Joe Romm ghostwrite Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYT? Let’s look at the uncanny similarities between Krugman’s op-ed and an argument advanced by Romm in several of his recent posts.

For example, Krugman writes today (my emphasis):

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.

If you click on that link Krugman provides, it’ll take you to this Romm post, where he wonders aloud (my emphasis):

The question is why specifically now have the Egyptians and Tunisians rioted after decades of anti-democratic rule?

Why indeed? Here’s what Krugman emphasizes:

While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. 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 be just the beginning.

That’s precisely the linkage Romm plays up in his post, when he writes (my emphasis) that

leading political experts say the Middle East rioting is driven in part by the dramatic rise in food prices, which the agricultural experts say is driven in large part by oil prices and the extreme weather we’ve seen in the last few months.  Of course, the climate science experts have been saying for a while now that the extreme weather is driven in large part by human emissions…Now the question is, why are food prices are at record levels?  Again, reality pretty much speaks for itself here.  Extreme weather is a major contributing factor — and our top climate scientists say global warming has contributed.

I have to say, if you’re a blogger banging out posts from your kitchen table, this is as good as it gets, when a prominent NYT columnist is taking his cue from you. Krugman has previously written that he “trusts Joe Romm on climate.”

Perhaps it’s time for him to amend that to “I trust Joe Romm on climate and political science.

UPDATE: Roger Pielke Jr. weighs in on Krugman’s column. I’m interested to see other reax when it comes in, so if you spot something, leave a comment.

UPDATE: Andrew Revkin has a nuanced big picture take.


Category: climate change, Egypt, global warming

About That Trigger

As the saying goes, third time is the charm:

Expert consensus grows on contribution of record high food prices to Middle East unrest

I have to say, the “status quo” media does come in handy some times. For example, one day “Scientific American jumps the shark,” and another day they are cited prominently in a subhead to help make a point. Good heavens! Which is the true Scientific American?

Anyway, it seems Romm is determined to play this card (my emphasis):

As unrest spread through the MidEast, it became increasingly obvious that higher food prices were playing a key triggering role.

I don’t have time right now to plow through all of Romm’s “expert” articles, so I’ll just say what Nicholas Kristof says in his op-ed :

Today, we are all Egyptians!

That includes you, Joe, tangential climate change link and all.

UPDATE: Charles Blow, in his weekly NYT column, writes:

It is impossible to know exactly which embers spark a revolution, but it’s not so hard to measure the conditions that make a country prime for one.

Go have a look at the data.


Category: climate change, Egypt

The Egyptian Inkblot

The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt continue to be a fascinating ink blot. Peak oil is now another instigator being thrown into the volatile mix. (It’s not clear to me if declining oil reserves would count as as trigger or underlying cause.)

As Andrew Revkin noted earlier this week, “everyone with an agenda seems to be able to find it reflected” in the unrest sweeping through the Arab world. However, one of the catalysts being claimed that didn’t make his list are the recent WikiLeaks embassy cables, which the New York Times and several other publications mined for revealing and titilating nuggets. In his cover story for last week’s NYT magazine, Bill Keller, the top editor at the Times, asserted:

WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.

Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi shares this belief.

But back to the peak oil link now making the rounds. Here’s the popular environmental website TreeHugger, starting to connect the dots (garbled grammar and all):

It may not seem on the surface of it all that the revolution sweeping the Middle East in the past few weeks only has a tangential green connection, but if you look just beneath the surface-as more people are beginning to do-that connection is right there.

I’m all for making connections, but be careful of digging too deep, or you could end up going down this rabbit hole.


Category: Egypt

At the Barricades

The big news and the big picture is captured by Anthony Shadid in his NYT dispatch, starting with this pitch perfect opening line:

The future of the Arab world, perched between revolt and the contempt of a crumbling order, was fought for in the streets of downtown Cairo on Wednesday.

His piece goes on to deliver terrific ground-level reporting (with an eye for the right detail):

The battle was waged by Mohammed Gamil, a dentist in a blue tie who ran toward the barricades of Tahrir Square. It was joined by Fayeqa Hussein, a veiled mother of seven who filled a Styrofoam container with rocks. Magdi Abdel-Rahman, a 60-year-old grandfather, kissed the ground before throwing himself against crowds mobilized by a state bent on driving them from the square. And the charge was led by Yasser Hamdi, who said his 2-year-old daughter would live a life better than the one he endured.

The story pivots deftly from the granular to a wide lens view:

From minute-by-minute coverage on Arabic channels to conversations from Iraq to Morocco, the Middle East watched breathlessly at a moment as compelling as any in the Arab world in a lifetime.

And here’s the kicker, which encapsulates the deeply felt theme of Shadid’s masterful story:

“I’m fighting for my freedom,” Noha al-Ustaz said as she broke bricks on the curb. “For my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice.”

“Go forward,” the cries rang out, and she did, disappearing into a sea of men.


Category: Egypt

The Revolution Will Not be Deferred

It’s not exactly Dewey Defeats Truman, but you can file this headline in the Never Mind department.


Category: Egypt, Journalism

Romm Doubles Down on Egypt/Climate Link

I have a few questions for Joe Romm.

1) When you discuss the 2007-2008 economic meltdown, do you focus on what triggered it (such as the housing bubble burst or underlying root causes (such as deregulation)?

2) When you discuss BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, do you focus on what triggered it (such as the blowout preventer) or systemic root causes (such as industry-wide practices)?

3) When you discuss the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, do you focus on what sparked it (such as the suicide of a Tunisian man), a contributing factor (such as rising food prices), or underlying causes (such as social inequity, injustice, and government repression)?

Romm need not bother stopping by with his answers. I found them at his blog.

1) He goes with mega-root causes, as this Ponzi scheme post demonstrates.

2) He identifies larger, industry-wide attitudes and practices as the main reasons for the BP spill.

(So far, we’re two for two, in that Romm explores underlying causes to major events.)

3) He focuses like a laser beam on a single contributing factor (here and here)-high food prices, apparently so he can make a larger, causal connection to global warming.

In his latest post, Romm concedes that

major historical events have multiple causes.  Some are underlying causes, and some are precipitating or triggering causes.

Then he makes an interesting statement:

Those who believe they understand the underlying causes are only revealing their ignorance if they shout down or dismiss those who are trying to explore some of the precipitating or triggering causes.

That’s precious coming from a guy who has done more than anyone to shout down and dismiss others who have explored climate solutions that have differed from his own. In any case, I’m not opposed to rising food prices being part of current Tunisia/Egypt conversation. I’ve just suggested it be put into some proper perspective, which is captured in these opening lines from an op-ed in today’s WaPo:

The demands for change sweeping across the Arab world are the manifestation of unrest that has festered for years. The status quo is unsustainable.

Hmm, “status quo” and “unsustainable”- two terms often invoked in the climate change debate. Maybe there’s a connection to be made somewhere there for those in the climate community who want to expand their frame of reference beyond rising food prices and global warming.


Category: climate change, Egypt, Joe Romm