Its COP21 week and in Sunday’s Blowout 100 Roger linked to a couple of UN articles detailing the risks to food security from climate change, especially in the developing world. Statements like this one are so inaccurate they in fact lie 180˚ from the truth:
Echoing this message was the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which underlined that natural disasters triggered by climate change have risen in frequency and severity over the last three decades, increasing the damage caused to the agricultural sectors of many developing countries and putting them at risk of growing food insecurity.
The World Food Programme (WFP) further insisted that without “ambitious action” to address the causes and consequences of climate change, hunger cannot be eradicated.
According to the UN IPCC AR5 report, climate disasters have not increased in frequency. Food production has kept pace with population growth averting famine thanks mainly to fossil fuels not despite them. And evidence for climate change related drought and food shortages in MENA (Middle East North Africa), the subject of this post, is sparse to absent as detailed in Roger’s post Drought, Climate, War, Terrorism, and Syria.
Fossil Fuels and Food
From Walter Youngquist, author of Geodestinies;
A second aspect of the post-petroleum paradigm is not confined to the oil-rich, oil dependent countries, but relates to the world as a whole. How the decline and eventual depletion of oil, and its close associate, natural gas, will affect world food production is of vital importance. Bartlett (1978) succinctly makes the point: “Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food”.
This was written from a perspective that fossil fuel depletion will one day catch up with the Human Race that is, in its current dimension, created from fossil fuels. It now needs to be read from the perspective of the UN, who evidently want to phase out the use of fossil fuels, an ambition that I personally view as a very dangerous fantasy since it may also result in the phasing out of Humanity.
Fossil fuels facilitate food production in many ways. Tractor mechanisation enables the cultivation of much larger areas. Irrigation, built and powered by fossil fuels, enables the cultivation of much larger areas. Of course in the past this was enabled by using human slaves, now replaced by fossil fuel energy slaves. Fossil fuels uniquely, especially natural gas, are used to manufacture fertilisers and pesticides. These underpinned the Green Revolution. None of this can be enabled by solar PV. The current UN course of demonising fossil fuels is very dangerous indeed.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) publishes a wealth of data on global food production. For example, for Syria about 69 different crops are listed. There is enough data here to keep me (and Roger) plotting for a year. In his post, Roger chose wheat as a benchmark crop and I have done the same. I chose Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Iran and Turkey to examine the linkages between food production, population and energy.
Figure 1 shows wheat production in the 5 selected countries. The dashed lines mark years when production fell. There could be a number of reasons for this, for example less area planted or conflict. But I will posit that the over riding factor is weather and in particular rainfall. Roger showed that wheat production in Syria fell during dry years. The 1989 event shows up in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey and was evidently a regional dry spell impacting productivity. But notably, dry spells are sometimes offset by one year between countries. For example Turkey was dry in 2007 while Iran, Syria and Iraq were dry in 2008. I will speculate that the distribution reflects the positioning of regional high pressure. Notably Egypt, which lies far to the South, does not match the Middle East which is not surprising.
The distribution suggests that the frequency of dry spells is increasing with periods of 16, 11 and 8 years, but barely enough to warrant claims that man made gobal warming is to blame. I am using the term dry spell to distinguish this from drought that conjures an image of multiple years without rain and widespread failure of crops. As Roger has already pointed out, this has not happened.
Figure 3 Looking at yield provides a measure independent of area planted and we see that the four low productivity years show up. One obvious feature is that yields in Egypt are much higher than the Middle east countries. Presumably this reflects the fertile Nile Valley and no shortage of water for irrigation. The average yield in 1961 was 1.1 tonnes / ha and by 2013 this had risen to 3.2, a factor increase of 2.9. In the same period, combined production grew from 13.1 million tonnes to 52.9 million tonnes, a factor increase of 4.0 and this tells us that the area planted has also grown. The main point is that this increase in yield is fundamental to sustaining populations. It is the direct result of fertiliser, pesticides, mechanisation and irrigation, all provided by fossil fuels. Virtually none of this may be attributed to renewable or carbon free energy. Perhaps some irrigation pumps work off hydro power in the Nile Valley?
Figure 4 The combined population of these five countries was 91 million in 1961 that grew to 294 million in 2013, a factor increase of 3.2 matching the increase in productivity almost exactly. It is the vastly increased number of souls living in these marginal environments that is the root cause of pressure on resources and in exposing them to risks from storms, drought, disease, conflict and famine. Fossil fuels have created all these people and it is through the act of creating them that risks to their existence arise. It has virtually nothing to do with CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. Switch off the fossil fuels and the people may also be switched off. Ban Ki-Moon and other world leaders would do well to understand that this is a core objective of deep Green Thinking that they have adopted as a global energy policy.
Figure 5 There are many variables at work to produce the per capita distributions – population, yield, weather, conflict to name but a few. Turkey has the highest per capita production and Egypt on balance the lowest. I presume that Egypt gives priority to production of some other staple crops.
Figure 6 Stacking per capita production is not best charting practice but I thought it was interesting to see how per capita production of wheat for these five countries has remained flat since 1961. The massive growth in population has been cancelled by greatly improved yields and efficiency made possible by fossil fuels, especially oil and gas. There is absolutely no evidence from this chart that man made global warming represents a risk to wheat crops in MENA. Increased CO2 will help in providing the increased yields!
Figure 7 Iraq and Iran are energy rich, less so Egypt, and Syria and Turkey are energy poor. The overall shape of this stack is moulded by conflict in Iraq and to a lesser extent sanctions on Iran. Overall, energy production has risen “in line” with population growth.
Figure 8 Primary energy consumption displays monotonic growth “in line” with population.
Figure 9 The chart of primary energy consumption per capita is interesting. Readers who have followed my earlier blog posts will know that I see energy consumption as a proxy for wealth. We see that Iraq, Syria and Egypt all have similar per capita energy consumptions. These are intrinsically poor developing nations. Moreover, their per capita consumption (wealth) has changed little since 1994. The UN really needs to ponder this statistic and ask if this may be linked to the latent instability in these nations. Turks consume more energy per capita despite being an energy poor State. The Iranians consume a lot more energy. Energy consumption in Turkey and Iran has increased since 1994.
Figure 10 To conclude a couple of charts focussing on Syria. Syria is energy poor. It does have some oil and gas, but nothing like the energy riches of its Gulf neighbours. Primary energy production peaked in the mid-1990s and since went into decline, going off a cliff when the troubles began in 2011. Gail Tverberg has already suggested that the trouble in Syria is linked to oil and gas depletion.
Figure 11 As already stated, Syria is not an energy rich nation, but it did produce a surplus of energy for export that has been in decline since 1996. Main primary energy production is oil, gas and hydroelectric power. The decline in energy production must have impacted State finances and the State’s ability to subsidise fuel and food.
In his earlier post Roger observed:
But while these factors undoubtedly contributed the event that probably contributed most to the 2008 crop failures was Bashar Assad’s 2005 “liberalization” of the Syrian economy, which caused a near-tripling of the price of diesel between 2007 and 2008 and made it “nearly impossible for many cultivators to keep their irrigation pumps running, much less to transport produce to the cities”
Without yet having dived into the details, it seems possible that recent socio-economic events follow this narrative:- Bashar Assad is confronted with the decline of Syria’s oil and gas fields AND burgeoning population. The country does not have a manufacturing base that would enable the import of energy. And so the decision is made to remove subsidies on petroleum consumption resulting in wide-spread unrest, especially in farming communities. The cost of diesel goes through the roof and agricultural productivity declines. This pattern is mirrored in a number of poor MENA countries.
- There is no evidence for prolonged regional drought impacting wheat production in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Iran and Turkey. Periodic, drier than normal years does reduce wheat production, but does not equate to regional drought caused by Man.
- In these countries, there has been a 3.2 factor uplift in wheat production per hectare since 1961 that can be attributed almost exclusively to benefits of using fossil fuels at multiple levels of the production process. To suggest that continued use of fossil fuels represents a risk to agriculture in these areas is a travesty.
- In Syria, indigenous energy production began to decline in the mid-1990s, and by the mid-2000s the country was facing energy imports it could not afford. The government removed subsidies on fuel consumption, at a time when global energy prices were rising sharply. Widespread social unrest and violence spread throughout MENA and Syria. Man made climate change had nothing to do with it.
- By advocating the removal of fossil fuel consumption subsidies throughout the developing world, the UN seems to be promoting the Syrian model for all. The UN, in the grasp of Green Thinking, really needs to watch out.