Brown begins his book with this statement:
The emphasis is mine. Brown suggests that the sequence of revolutions in the Middle East that we refer to as The Arab Spring were partially fueled by high food prices. Could it be that Brown’s prediction has already seen its first instantiation in the Middle East? Could this be the first in a sequence of social upheavals caused by climate change and failures of countries to provide food security for their populations?
A collection of essays assembled by Caitlin E. Werrell, Francesco Femia, and Anne-Marie Slaughter provide a more explicit connection between food supply issues and the political events: The Arab Spring and Climate Change. Thomas L. Friedman provides a tidy summary of the report in his column in the New York Times.
"The numbers tell the story: "Bread provides one-third of the caloric intake in Egypt, a country where 38 percent of income is spent on food," notes Sternberg. ‘The doubling of global wheat prices — from $157/metric ton in June 2010 to $326/metric ton in February 2011 — thus significantly impacted the country’s food supply and availability.’ Global food prices peaked at an all-time high in March 2011, shortly after President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in Egypt."
While neither source indicates food price was the prime driver for social upheaval, it certainly helped feed the unrest. Unless the food supply issue can be resolved it is also likely to contribute to continued unrest as the newly formed governments struggle to attain stability.
The entire Middle East region seems to be beset by problems associated with climate and food supplies.
Brown’s book provides more insight into the problems that have developed throughout this region. He describes a situation where ever-growing populations have been confronted with climate change, overuse of water supplies, and increased soil erosion.
Brown lists eighteen countries that were drawing down their water aquifers more quickly that they could be refreshed in 2012. The list includes the United States, China, and India. More pertinent to this discussion, the list also includes Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
The entire region is arid and most crops must be produced using irrigation. In many countries, the only sources of water for irrigation are underground aquifers that are essentially trapped water supplies (fossilized) that do not get replenished.
Brown relates how the grain market is becoming an unreliable source for highly-dependent countries. Traditional grain producers have nearly topped out their production capabilities, and they are also subject to changing weather conditions, including drought and rising temperatures. Brown quotes studies that indicate crop productivity is strongly temperature dependent, with each degree centigrade of temperature rise causing between 10% and 18% lower crop yields.
Rich countries such as Saudi Arabia are buying up or leasing land in Africa in hopes of being able to utilize the one remaining significant source of underutilized land to feed their own people.
Some countries have few options.
Surface water is also becoming scarcer and causing serious problems.
Improper use of the land leads to soil erosion, a growing problem in some areas.
Iran has its own soil problems caused by overgrazing.
It would seem that the peoples of the Middle East have more to contend with than just poor leaders and weak or tyrannical governments. Their political troubles may, one day soon, be the least of their problems.