Anti-government protesters rage in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. A new study from the Center for American Progress makes a persuasive case that interplay between climate change, food prices, and politics is a hidden stressor that helped fuel the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011. Photo: Getty Images

By Raveena Aulakh Environment Reporter
5 March 2013

(Toronto Star) – Drought in eastern China. A shortage of wheat. An uprising in Egypt.

On the face of it, the three don’t seem related. But two years after revolutions swept through the Arab world, a new study argues that climate change played a significant role in the Arab Spring.

The study — The Arab Spring and Climate Change — doesn’t claim climate change triggered the Arab revolutions but makes a persuasive case that interplay between climate change, food prices, and politics is a hidden stressor that helped fuel the revolutions.

The series of essays open with Princeton scholar Anne-Marie Slaughter’s argument that consequences of climate change are “stressors that can ignite a volatile mix of underlying cause that erupt into revolution.”

The essays were jointly produced by the Centre for American Progress and the Centre for Climate and Security in Washington.

The connection between the Chinese drought of 2010 and the Egyptian uprising is compelling.

Two years ago, protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo kept millions around the world glued to their TV sets, others followed them on social media, making it one of the most closely watched uprisings.

The Egyptians were fed up with Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime, wanted to get rid of him.

It was a bit more complicated, argues Troy Sternberg, a geographer at Oxford University.

He writes that a once-in-a-century winter drought in China — with record-breaking heat waves or floods in other key wheat-growing countries and an abnormally wet season in Canada — reduced global wheat supply and sent prices skyrocketing, including in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer.

Higher wheat prices affected the cost and availability of bread in Egypt, influenced citizen protests and indirectly led to regime change, says Sternberg.

Numbers tell this story: “Bread provides one-third of the caloric intake in Egypt, a country where 38 per cent of income is spent on food,” Sternberg notes.

Global food prices peaked at an all-time high in March 2011, after Mubarak was toppled.

Interestingly, the world’s top nine wheat importers are in the Middle East and “seven had political protests resulting in civilian deaths in 2011,” pointed out Sternberg, who calls the drought the “localized hazard that became global.” [more]

How a drought in China may have helped spark the Arab Spring

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