Remember All Those "Pro-Democracy" Protests Last Year? Here's What They Were Really About...:
The widespread protests across the Middle East and northern Africa in last year's "Arab Spring" were often viewed as the awakening of a critical region to the virtues of democracy.
And they may have had something to do with that.
But a paper by three New England-based researchers suggests the coordinated timing of all these protests was caused by something far more simple:
Skyrocketing food prices.
When food prices hit a certain critical level, Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, and Yaneer Bar-Yam show, people tend to turn to violence--because their desperation hits a level at which they have nothing left to lose.
As the chart below shows, the Arab Spring protests, along with earlier protests in the region, coincided with two huge peaks in global food prices.
Attempts to avoid food crisis may worsen problem: Wealthier countries to face higher prices for longer
Food crisis deepens as World Bank issues hunger warning: A third factor affecting food availability and especially prices is the burning of food for fuel. Ethanol mandates in the U.S. have taken millions of bushels of corn out of the food supply, and as more ethanol is mandated in the future, there will be even less of it available for consumption and food production.
"In the United States, which harvested 416 million tons of grain in 2009, 119 million tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars," said Foreign Policy. "That's enough to feed 350 million people for a year. The massive U.S. investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest."