We Are Now One Year Away From Global Riots, Complex Systems Theorists Say

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Top Tier Gear USA


What’s the number one reason we riot? The plausible, justifiable motivations of trampled-upon humanfolk to fight back are many—poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, etc—but the big one is more primal than any of the above. It’s hunger, plain and simple. If there’s a single factor that reliably sparks social unrest, it’s food becoming too scarce or too expensive. So argues a group of complex systems theorists in Cambridge, and it makes sense.

In a 2011 paper, researchers at the Complex Systems Institute unveiled a model that accurately explained why the waves of unrest that swept the world in 2008 and 2011 crashed when they did. The number one determinant was soaring food prices. Their model identified a precise threshold for global food prices that, if breached, would lead to worldwide unrest.

The MIT Technology Review explains how CSI’s model works: “The evidence comes from two sources. The first is data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The second is the date of riots around the world, whatever their cause.” Plot the data, and it looks like this:

Pretty simple. Black dots are the food prices, red lines are the riots. In other words, whenever the UN’s food price index, which measures the monthly change in the price of a basket of food commodities, climbs above 210, the conditions ripen for social unrest around the world. CSI doesn’t claim that any breach of 210 immediately leads to riots, obviously; just that the probability that riots will erupt grows much greater. For billions of people around the world, food comprises up to 80% of routine expenses (for rich-world people like you and I, it’s like 15%). When prices jump, people can’t afford anything else; or even food itself. And if you can’t eat—or worse, your family can’t eat—you fight.

But how accurate is the model? An anecdote the researchers outline in the report offers us an idea. They write that “on December 13, 2010, we submitted a government report analyzing the repercussions of the global financial crises, and directly identifying the risk of social unrest and political instability due to food prices.” Four days later, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire as an act of protest in Tunisia. And we all know what happened after that.

Today, the food price index is hovering around 213, where it has stayed for months—just beyond the tip of the identified threshold. Low corn yield in the U.S., the world’s most important producer, has helped keep prices high.

“Recent droughts in the mid-western United States threaten to cause global catastrophe,” Yaneer Bar-Yam, one of the authors of the report, recently told Al Jazeera. “When people are unable to feed themselves and their families, widespread social disruption occurs. We are on the verge of another crisis, the third in five years, and likely to be the worst yet, capable of causing new food riots and turmoil on a par with the Arab Spring.”

Yet the cost of food hasn’t quite yet risen to the catastrophic levels reached last year. Around the time of the riots cum-revolutions, we saw the food price index soar through 220 points and even push 240. This year, we’ve pretty consistently hovered in the 210-216 range—right along the cusp of danger. But CSI expects a perilous trend in rising food prices to continue. Even before the extreme weather scrambled food prices this year, their 2011 report predicted that the next great breach would occur in August 2013, and that the risk of more worldwide rioting would follow. So, if trends hold, these complex systems theorists say we’re less than one year and counting from a fireball of global unrest.

But the reality is that such predictions are now all but impossible to make. In a world well-warmed by climate change, unpredictable, extreme weather events like the drought that has consumed 60% of the United States and the record heat that has killed its cattle are now the norm. Just two years ago, heat waves in Russia crippled its grain yield and dealt a devastating blow to global food markets—the true, unheralded father of the Arab Spring was global warming, some say.

And it’s only going to get worse and worse and worse. Because of climate change-exacerbated disasters like these, “the average price of staple foods such as maize could more than double in the next 20 years compared with 2010 trend prices,” a new report from Oxfam reveals. That report details how the poor will be even more vulnerable to climate change-induced food price shocks than previously thought. After all, we’ve “loaded the climate dice,” as NASA’s James Hansen likes to say, and the chances of such disasters rolling out are greater than ever.

This all goes to say that as long as climate change continues to advance—it seems that nothing can stop that now—and we maintain a global food system perennially subject to volatile price spikes and exploitation from speculators, without reform, our world will be an increasingly restive one. Hunger is coming, and so are the riots.

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  • Mark McBee

    It is suck to be hungry. It is fun to be part of the riot and chaos. I took part in Rodney King’s Riot in 1991. I was just out of high school and didn’t now what to do with my life. I was unemployed at the time too.

    • Pooby

      You’ve been here since 1991 and you still write like that? Too busy rioting to learn English?

  • Barn Cat

    Gee. Two kinds of lies in the same article: first global warming then climate change. Which is it? The world hasn’t warmed since 1998.

    • Ellen on the coast

      Thank you….my sentiments exactly. Bet he copied a Gore speech.

    • Nexus789

      That may or may not be the case.

      However, the fact is that there have serious droughts in both the US and Russia. These will have an impact on the price of food globally.

      It takes time for increased prices to feed through into the market.

  • Christopher de Vidal

    I remember this article when it first came out in September 2012:

    If they’re right, we’re now down to about six months. At the moment, the UN food index is 215.5:

  • Bob Marshall

    40 0f the 45 Communist Goals to Take control, of America have been successfully carried out yet millions don’t believe a complete government takeover is possible.Colonel Edward Mandel House’s book give a story explaining what it would be like but that book, Philip Dru. Administrator was written in 1911. The story written by House who was the architect behind the establishment of the graduated income tax, excess profits tax, unemployment insurance, social security and a flexible currency system. A most rich and powerful man of his time who was the man behind the scenes responsible for Wilson and FDR becoming president. these were the policies of both Wilson, FDR and their administrations. Don’t forget about the IRS, CIA, all the government agencies to follow. today there are at least 80 entitlement programs of one kind or another. Karl Marx’s dream of a United States Socialist Republic is indeed coming true. Norman Thomas declared during the 1940’s when he was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America.this would happen. i have call Obama many names but stupid is so wrong.obam never make it a secret how he would transform America. Why capatialism must be brought down and why our military industrial complex must be more in line with the rest of the world. Obama’s used Alinsky’s tactics to perfection.he had the backing of billionaires such as George Soros a few more. he was endorsed by Socialist party of America, Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialist party of America, the NEA, SEIU and the Muslim brotherhood. He knew minorities almost always vote democrat. he knew millions of white voter were still bothered by the way slaves were treated in the past although it was the Democratic party that kept them that way. he had to know that 255 of adults in the United States were functionally illiterate so they would believe whatever his campaign and the White House propaganda machines put out.The young voters were the easiest for Obama. He already had the minorities. The 2008 and 2012 exit polls tell the story and proves that President Obama knew his sheep. Our founders thought the voting age should be 45 and one had to own property in order to be allowed to vote. the young voters will feel the impact in 2014 more than any other voting age group. The majority of women voters.were very instrumental in Obama becoming president twice. Obama announced the internet that the saved his campaign millions of dollars and got out his messages.

    • Mensa Graham

      Does anyone seriously believe that conservatives have a chinaman’s chance of winning election in 2016? The presidency has been bought and paid for by progressives (used to be called communists).

    • Nexus789

      You must live in a constant state of delusion and paranoia.

      The US is controlled and run by corporate interests and the bankers. There is not a communist in sight.

  • gwynmarilyn

    between rain and cool weather and the red winter wheat loss. I do dred what this fall will give us.

    • mike

      Thank you Gwyn Marilyn

    • Tim

      “And the heaven that is over your head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee, iron. And the Lord will turn the rain of the land into powder and dust, even from heaven they shall come down upon thee, until thou be brought to naught.
      Here is the simple reason for the destruction of man’s world. He has ignored the righteousness mandated by Moses to the Children of Israel all those years ago. He had a choice of blessing or cursing.
      “When the land sins against Me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out My hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it…”

      • What book/chapter/verse of the Bible is this quote from?

        • Montana Mike

          Ezekiel 14:13
          A very interesting book with many profound verses.

          your welcome


      • There is still hope. “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
        2Ch 7:14

  • Derek the Donkey

    I hope Facebook goes the same way as Myspace this Fall.

  • While the model may be correct the “global warming” facade is getting old…end times are coming…the USA will not be a player…so that means we will be taken out of the picture.

  • Rebecca

    People all over the world are hungry, and some even starve to death every day, but there is no rioting. Rioting is a decision to cause upset to the system. This article seems to be nurturing the idea that rioting is a viable expression for people, worldwide. It’s called “organizing”. Communists wanting to come to power have used rioting extensively.

  • This is why we need to teach people to becoming self-sufficient and Self-reliant…. Grow Food not lawns… This is what we teach over at Modern Homesteaders.

  • corporatejungles

    the global warming alarmist have been proven over and over that global warming is a hoax. However, I do believe a crisis is eminent because of greedy bloated governments and lazy moochers on the government dole. You have to grow your own food to truly be free of government oppression.

  • Burke Chester

    This was interesting until the climate change BS. CO2 is plant food and warm weather helps agriculture. The medieval warm period was a time of great prosperity and population growth.

  • Roscoe

    Somebody wake up this rip van winkle. Riots a year away? He obviously hasn`t looked around at all.

  • Evie

    Yes, I will give it no longer than 6 months. I do believe the people will win.