Politics & Policy

Arab Spring, Warmist Spin

Is global warming destabilizing the Middle East?

According to a new study jointly produced by three liberal organizations — the Center for American Progress, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Climate and Security — global warming may be destabilizing the Arab world. Entitled “The Arab Spring and Climate Change,” the study was given prominent publicity by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who put many of its words under his byline to create his op-ed column for Sunday, March 3.

According to Friedman, “‘The Arab Spring and Climate Change’ doesn’t claim that climate change caused the recent wave of Arab revolutions, but, taken together, the essays make a strong case that the interplay between climate change, food prices (particularly wheat) and politics is a hidden stressor that helped to fuel the revolutions and will continue to make consolidating them into stable democracies much more difficult.”

In support of this, Friedman quotes the study’s authors, who claim that the rise in the price of wheat from $157 per metric ton in June 2010 to $326 per metric ton in February 2011 was “caused by global wheat shortages” and was in turn a global-warming-related “stressor” that played a major role in igniting the Arab revolutions.

So, let’s take a look to see if this claim makes any sense. In Figure 1, I show wheat prices, adjusted for inflation, from 1986 through 2012.

Figure 1: Wheat and oil prices, 1986–2012; wheat in dollars per metric ton, oil in dollars per barrel

It can be seen that, while there was indeed a rise in the price of wheat in early 2011, when the Arab revolts began, there had been a much bigger one in 2008, which sparked no revolts. Furthermore, as we shall see in greater detail below, there is no correlation between wheat prices and global temperatures. In the recent period, there is a correlation between wheat prices and oil prices — which, however, Friedman and his allies are seeking to drive up through carbon taxes, opposition to the Keystone pipeline, and various regulations.

In Figure 2, I show the total size of the world harvest of both wheat and corn from 1996 to 2012.  

Figure 2: World wheat and corn production, 1996–2012

It can be seen that, despite alleged global warming, grain production has been increasing globally over this period, and that far from being a famine year, 2011 saw the highest wheat production in human history.

But has there been global warming? Yes, there has, but not recently. The data that show this can be seen in Figure 3, published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Figure 3: Global mean temperatures, 1880–2010

It can be seen that, while global temperatures did indeed rise, according to the NOAA, from 1915 to 1942, and then again from 1975 to 2002, they have not risen since. It should also be noted that since the warming trend began, grain yields have multiplied. U.S. corn yields per acre, for example, have increased sixfold since 1925, and there have been even larger gains in many Third World nations.

It is difficult to understand how anyone can make the claim that the Arab revolts of 2011 could have been caused by a wheat shortage caused by global warming when, in fact, there was no wheat shortage and there was no warming.

Unless of course, such people are willing to say anything, no matter how ridiculous, if it might serve the purpose of spreading panic over global warming.

— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy and the author of Energy Victory. His latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, was published last year by Encounter Books.


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