Sunday, May 24, 2015

The French Model: Will Climate Change Spark a World Wide Revolution?

by Nomad

Global warming Revolution Food

Can we afford to ignore the growing impact of climate change on the stability of nations? Are we facing the potential of a global chaos that will make the French Revolution look like a playground squabble?

On the Brink
Scientists tell us that the world stands on the brink of a radical shifting of the global climate patterns.  From the data, we can at the very least assume, the effects will be unpredictable and it is very likely that there will be more losers than winners.

However, if you think that those dire predictions lay in the distant future, you would be incorrect. A report from the UN's climate science panel last year noted that climate change has already cut into the global food supply. What caught the attention of the government officials from 115 countries who reviewed the report was a blunt and categorical statement. 
Climate change, the report warned, could threaten all aspects of global food security. At this time there was enough evidence, the scientists said to say "for certain that climate change is affecting food production on land and sea." 
That is not based on projections but effects found in real-time.

Midwest flood
Just this week it was reported that large parts of Texas and Oklahoma have gone from "an unrelenting, multi-year drought" to historic levels of rainfall. Those rainfalls have flooded the states. This flooding has also included Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and other Midwestern states.  Weather-related disruptions to agriculture in these states will have a serious rippling effect on the nation's overall economy as well as the price of food -especially grain-fed cattle and poultry.

Many climate studies have found that as the world warms in response to rising levels of man made greenhouse gases, heavy precipitation events are getting more frequent and intense. This is true in the South Central states, but it's most pronounced in the Northeast and Midwest.
This wild weather ride is likely to have long term debilitating effect of the nation's food supply.  True, warmer temperatures could in theory mean a longer growing season. However, there will also be sudden shifts which between droughts and severe flooding. That's bad news for agriculture. The 2014 National Climate Assessment predicted that the Midwest will face longer drought duration followed by "isolated bursts and deluges."
For the American Midwest, the report comes with some stark projections: more extreme heat, along with heavier downpours and flooding, and serious consequences for the ecosystems of the Great Lakes and for large portions of the region’s economy.
A fairly accurate forecast of this week's weather in the nation's heartland.

According to the Weather Channel, in Oklahoma, there have been three 500-year floods in the last five years. That fact alone should have removed all doubts in the minds of climate change deniers.
Drought hunger
A Lab Experiment
If the week's events in the Midwest are anything to go by, that might have actually been a underestimation of the global impact. In some ways the American Midwest can be seen as a lab experiment for the rest of the world. So says EPA:
Internationally, the effects of climate change on agriculture and food supply are likely to be similar to those seen in the United States. However, other stressors such as population growth may magnify their effects.
Developing nations will not have the tools to adaption to the radical and swift changes in climate and are likely to be harder impacted.

Even today, as climate change is only begining to take hold, food shortages are a a major global concern. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that up to 1 billion people are suffering from starvation, under nutrition and malnutrition. The cost of food has increased worldwide since June 2011 and is today at an all-time high.  The problem is only going to get worse.

According to UN estimates, by 2030, the world will require 50 percent more food. In the next four decades, The production of food must be be ramped up by 70 percent. Climate change is probably going to make that goal unattainable. It will instead be a race to maintain the present standard. Within the next fifteen years, up to 3 billion of the world's population will be reduced to poverty and hunger.
That's a very unstable world we are facing.

There have already been vague warnings that climate change could have some major cascading effects. For example in 2011, the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), a research body of academics from Harvard and MIT, took a close look at the numbers and came up with some interesting conclusions.

Food ShortageBased on  data from the  FAO Food Price Index, NECSI correlated food prices with outbreaks of unrest from 2008 to 2011. The numbers showed that not only was there a direct relationship between food prices and social unrest but that the numbers followed a predictable pattern. A "direct threshold" for when global food prices lead to worldwide unrest.
Free market mentality simply made matters worse, the report notes.
Compounded by speculators in the commodities markets "making a killing" on the food crisis, prices for staples like corn and wheat rose nearly 50% on international markets last summer.
The president of the non-profit think-tank Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, adds that the stability of climate- even in a general sense- can not be depended upon. Demand on food, says Brown, are growing so fast that a breakdown is inevitable:
"Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations. We are on the same path. Each country is now fending for itself. The world is living one year to the next... Climate is in a state of flux; there is no normal any more. We are beginning a new chapter."
The Lesson of History
History is, as the saying goes, an excellent teacher to those who dare to study it.  French historian Hippolyte Adolphe Taine back in 1878 wrote the first of his three-volume study on the French Revolution. In that book, he looked at the origins of the anarchy and the root causes for the destruction of law and order, and , the eventual dissolution of all government in France.
Given the ominous warnings of the climate change science, Taine's writings makes chilling reading.

Certainly the revolution would never have happened if the system of representational government had not been corrupted beyond repair. Income inequality had ensured that wealth enjoyed by the upper crust never trickled down to the poor. 
While this wasn't exactly new in European history, the Age of Reason had created a sense, among the lower class, of expectation. This expectation to a just system based on equality was a powerful idea. The framers of the US Constitution deliberated hard on how to make this a founding principle of the newly independent American nation. 

In France, the reforms of an enlightened age had been largely ignored by the ruling class. However, this "new idea slowly, little by little" unfolded in the "perplexed brooding mind" of the peasant.  When this expectation was ignored, what followed was a seething resentment that would eventually erupt into anarchy.

More importantly, Taine realized that the revolution was sparked not by injustice alone. Oddly perhaps, the French revolution literally arrived both on a dark cloud and out of the clear blue.  
In 1788, a year of severe drought, the crops had been poor. In addition to this, on the eve of the harvest, a terrible hail-storm burst over the region around Paris, from Normandy to Champagne, devastating sixty leagues of the most fertile territory, and causing damage to the amount of one hundred millions of francs.
All of this devastation was followed by a miserably hard winter.
Winter came on, the severest that had been seen since 1709. At the close of December the Seine was frozen over from Paris to Havre, while the thermometer stood at 18 degrees below zero. A third of the olive-trees died in Provence, and the rest suffered to such an extent that they were considered incapable of bearing fruit for two years to come. The same disaster befell Languedoc. In Vivarais, and in the Cevennes, whole forests of chestnuts had perished, along with all the grain and grass crops on the uplands. On the plain the Rhone remained in a state of overflow for two months. After the spring of 1789 the famine spread everywhere, and it increased from month to month like a rising flood.
The food supply which was barely keeping up with demand in the best of times collapsed under the stress of the weather disaster.
The result was soaring food prices on the most basic of commodity: Bread. 

Where there were wheat harvests, the grain was of such poor quality that the bread that came from it was practically inedible.  Other grains, such as barley and rye were no better. being "of the worst possible quality, rotten and in a condition to produce dangerous diseases." What appears to be a fungal outbreak- due presumably to the wet conditions- ruined whatever grain could be salvaged. The bread that resulted was "generally blackish, earthy, and bitter, producing inflammation of the throat and pain in the bowels."
The poor were reduced to eating what was hardly any better than garbage.

French history peasantFree market principles only made matters worse. Scarcity created demand and such desperation led to widespread price gouging even as the poor began to starve. Even when bread was available, most of the King's subjects are unable to pay the price. Bread became the "object of savage greed."
A poor man, who finds it difficult to live when bread is cheap, sees death staring him in the face when it is dear.
The system rapidly reached a breaking point. "Neither public measures nor private charity" as Taine pointed out,"could meet the overwhelming need." 

The government had shirked its responsibility to the general welfare. The French aristocracy remained oblivious or indifferent. However on the other end of the social spectrum, it was a different story.
Taine paints this picture of the discontent that was continued to grow unabated. As men and women waited anxiously in crowds outside bakeries for bread that would never come (or would be putrid and rotten if it did) there was a growing feeling that governments, largely at the service of the vested interests of the 1%, couldn't care less.  
In this long line of unemployed, excited men, swaying to and fro before the shop-door, dark thoughts are fermenting: "if the bakers find no flour to-night to bake with, we shall have nothing to eat tomorrow."
With those dark thoughts came another idea. Governments, despite the power of their armies to quell unrest, were no match for the hunger-inspired anger of the people. Although the average peasant might once have been convinced of his impotence, that time had passed. A sense of fearlessness developed out of desperation.

A father watching his children starve before his eyes will not return to his plow, his factory or his slave wage job. It is a kind of desperation that most Americans have never faced and can't really imagine. However, our many of grandparents came close to it during the Great Depression. This explains why so many of them hide money under the mattresses and spent a lot of time canning and preserving food.   

french revolution guillotine
Taine compares the situation with a wall that the poor have considered too high to scale. That wall which kept the rich and the government (and the food) on one side and the rest of the population on the other was cracking. And before long, the hungry angry mob would tear at those cracks until the entire structure gave way.
When they found that the granaries were just as empty as their stomachs, they were determined to take revenge.
That blood-lust revenge came in the form of the public execution of the aristocracy, the king and his court and eventually the very leaders of the revolution.
*   *   * 
Does this mean that history of the French Revolution will repeat itself on a global scale? 
Yet, those events could also provide one possible model for widespread social unrest spinning into chaos. All of the standard elements can be found today in many countries: wide income-inequality, poor government, low levels of social provision, ethnic tensions and a history of unrest. 
Add to that soaring food prices caused by climate change and you have a forecast for a grim future only perhaps a decade away.