A few years ago, Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor stated that with the world’s population growing, food supplies diminishing, and water supplies becoming more scarce, all of these factors would combine to form a ‘perfect storm’ in 2030 resulting in food shortages and rioting. However, the New England Complex Systems Institute believes he is way too optimistic with his timing. In fact, the complexity theorists think that if we don’t reverse the current trend in food prices, we’ve got until August 2013 before social unrest sweeps the planet.
The team from New England including Marco Lagi say they believe that a single factor will trigger riots around the world within the next 11 months – the price of food. Lagi and his team say that once food prices reach a certain point, social unrest will break out in several countries, especially in poorer parts of the world.
The team cite evidence from the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which plots the price of food against time and the date of riots around the world. They’ve even made a graph which shows that when the food prices rises above a certain threshold, riots occur.
There is a saying that states that “every society is only three meals away from revolution”, and it is easy to believe. If food is unobtainable, the fear of starvation will drive people to extreme measures. However, Lagi and his team don’t think that high food prices will solely lead to riots, but will be responsible for creating the conditions in which social unrest can flourish.
“These observations are consistent with a hypothesis that high global food prices are a precipitating condition for social unrest,” said Lagi to Technology Review. What is worse is that food prices seem to be constantly going up due to traders speculating on the price of food, which has gotten worse in recent years by the deregulation of the commodities markets and the removal of trading limits for buyers and sellers. The second is the conversion of corn into ethanol, a practice directly encouraged by subsidies.
Of course, it is the western world, and specifically the US, that is responsible for such subsidies, so if global unrest is to be prevented, major changes are going to have to be made.