These days when we talk about civil unrest the first example that comes to mind is the recent Arab Spring that has swept through and is still causing unrest in the Middle East and surrounding countries. Many people in the west believe that we would never see anything like that happen in North America but some researchers with a rather unique point of view think otherwise.
Marco Lagi and colleagues at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge believe that they have found a single factor that could possibly spark mass worldwide riots.
The price of food.
While it isn’t the price of food itself that will lead to riots Lagi and team say that what the high prices do is create the conditions in which social unrest can grow.
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. Both these sources are plotted on the same graph above.
This clearly seems to show that when the food price index rises above a certain threshold, the result is trouble around the world.
This isn’t rocket science. It stands to reason that people become desperate when food is unobtainable. It’s often said that any society is three square meals from anarchy.
Back in December of last year Lagi and his group wrote to the U.S. Government warning that global food prices were about to cross over the threshold that had been identified by the group. Then four days later the Arab Spring was sparked into life by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian who set himself on fire to protest government policies. What has followed is as they say – history.
Lagi and his group are suggesting that once again in August 2013 we could cross that danger threshold once again.