Some days ago, the winner of the Noble Prize for economy, had an op-ed in the New York Times, which stirred some agitation in the blogosphere. Paul Krugman! The first economist who is able to write first-class op-eds! Who so expertly took the reader by the hand and steered us through the global economic crisis! (No irony, from my side, I mean it!). In this comment, he turns his expertise to climate and links it with political economy: he establishes a causal link between the current political upheavals in Egypt and global warming via the rise of food prices, which (in his opinion) are a consequence of the effects of global warming (such as droughts and floods in Australia or Russia).
And there’s little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.And the link goes to Joe Romm's Climate Progress blog, where we can read that
This is a quote that Joe Romm picked up from the American National Public Radio, where a feature is titled "Rising food prices can topple governments, too".Political unrest has broken out in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab countries. Social media and governmental policies are getting most of the credit for spurring the turmoil, but there’s another factor at play.
Many of the people protesting are also angry about dramatic price hikes for basic foodstuffs, such as rice, cereals, cooking oil and sugar.
Why these links? I just want to show that this kind of alarmism is far from being a peripheral phenomenon. Quite the contrary, this is mainstream thinking and has to be taken seriously. To be more precise, it is liberal (or in European terms, social democrat / green) mainstream, as Krugman makes clear from the outset. Of course, "American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve" for rising food prices and state that "Bernanke has blood on his hands"; and those very same right-wingers of course "insist that the scientific consensus on climate reflects a vast leftist conspiracy." But leave those right wingers behind and have a look at what happens:
Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that’s about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever. 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?Again, Krugman knows about his critics. Yes, there are other reasons for rising food prices, too. Yes, there is also La Nina. Krugman is not stupid:
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.That's it. It's "just what you'd expect from climate change" - here we have in a nutshell those elements that make up global climate change discourse. This discourse is politicized (left / right); it is indeed "global" - this is not about details, it is about the big picture; it is about common sense based on the scientific consensus.
Something went wrong with alarmism. In case you are concerned about global warming and you want to raise alarm, there should be better arguments. For example, something went wrong with Paul Krugman's respect for people: to denounce the revolution in Egypt as a mere effect of a food crisis aka global warming is deeply cynical; it takes away dignity and respect from those who fight and risk their lives for democracy and human rights! In this respect, his comment is arrogant and deterministic (and, so American, I am tempted to add...).
We have put so many efforts in bringing back the skeptic into climate discussion; isn't it time to restore and to update the alarmist's position?