The KrugRomm Hybrid

By Keith Kloor | February 7, 2011 8:20 am

Did Joe Romm ghostwrite Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYT? Let’s look at the uncanny similarities between Krugman’s op-ed and an argument advanced by Romm in several of his recent posts.

For example, Krugman writes today (my emphasis):

After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn’t so much why they’re happening as why they’re happening now. And there’s little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

If you click on that link Krugman provides, it’ll take you to this Romm post, where he wonders aloud (my emphasis):

The question is why specifically now have the Egyptians and Tunisians rioted after decades of anti-democratic rule?

Why indeed? Here’s what Krugman emphasizes:

While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate “” which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

That’s precisely the linkage Romm plays up in his post, when he writes (my emphasis) that

leading political experts say the Middle East rioting is driven in part by the dramatic rise in food prices, which the agricultural experts say is driven in large part by oil prices and the extreme weather we’ve seen in the last few months.  Of course, the climate science experts have been saying for a while now that the extreme weather is driven in large part by human emissions…Now the question is, why are food prices are at record levels?  Again, reality pretty much speaks for itself here.  Extreme weather is a major contributing factor “” and our top climate scientists say global warming has contributed.

I have to say, if you’re a blogger banging out posts from your kitchen table, this is as good as it gets, when a prominent NYT columnist is taking his cue from you. Krugman has previously written that he “trusts Joe Romm on climate.”

Perhaps it’s time for him to amend that to “I trust Joe Romm on climate and political science.

UPDATE: Roger Pielke Jr. weighs in on Krugman’s column. I’m interested to see other reax when it comes in, so if you spot something, leave a comment.

UPDATE: Andrew Revkin has a nuanced big picture take.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, Egypt, global warming
  • Dean_1230

    I’m not an expert on current weather events and international food trade, but can anyone point to the “extreme weather” that produced the food shortages?
     

  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    RPJ has put Krugman’s take into its proper religious perspective.

  • Stu

    “leading political experts”

    “agricultural experts”

    “climate science experts”

    Impressive… so many experts.

  • http://gryposaurus.wordpress.com/ grypo

    Actually, Krugman isn’t looking at long term food prices.  This is the same logic people use when looking that MWP and saying that is was warm then, so it doesn’t matter that it is warm now.  A real analysis looks at reasons/results.  In fact, Pielke Jr. looks at commodities growth rates, according to the source referenced on his blog, if I am reading the paragraph there as his evidence (which do not look at the recent 2 years we are talking about).  If he is trying to compare growth rates, Krugman already looked at this.  The growth rates didn’t begin to match the commodities rate until the summer.  I’m not saying that there isn’t other reasons, because as Krugman noted, there definitely are, but using commodities isn’t a good match.  The food prices rose in the summer of 2010.  This is a much better match.  Let’s not go so crazy in the other direction that attempting to sound reasonable, against all those KRUGROMM crazies, makes us ignore important information.

  • harrywr2

    Per Pielke Jr’s chart
    So if Global Warming is the cause of food price spikes now, what was the cause of food price spikes in the 1970′s?

     

  • http://gryposaurus.wordpress.com/ grypo

    #5
    Likely the oil crisis.  It’s a good question because that is what real analysis entails.  Cause/effect.  A simple chart with a curve doesn’t do the trick.

  • Vinny Burgoo

    grypo: A simple chart with a curve doesn’t do the trick.
    That’s right. So here’s another one:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/4bl8zjn
    Romm’s asking why Egyptians are rioting now shows that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Egyptians are always rioting. (His asking why Tunisians rioted shows more promise.)


     

  • Sashka

    Krugman and Romm could be twins separated at birth.

  • harrywr2

    #6
    Here is an article from 1975,
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,947184,00.html
    An unusually warm June in Russia apparently sparked some issues related to global food security.
    What happened last summer in Russia?
    There is nothing new about poor Russian grain harvests. Russia had 11 major famines between 1845 and 1922.
    http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/savage/A-FAM.PDF
    Now that the Russian’s are integrated into global trading markets the global grain markets are subject to the fickleness of Russian weather as well. Instead of the Russia’s starving to death we all end up paying the price of poor Russian harvests.
    Then here – the LaNina of 1973-1975 cause flooding in Australia, another one of the worlds food baskets. http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/c20thc/flood.shtml

    Somewhere in the world is going to have a bad harvest in any given year. Global markets tend to balance that out.
    It’s not historically unprecedented that more then one of the worlds major bread baskets has a poor harvest in the same year. It’s just not common, the last time was in the 1970′s. Poor Russian harvest due to heat wave followed by flooding in Australia.
    Of course in the years of Communism the poor harvests in communist countries were blamed on communism.
    Now we blame poor harvests in formerly communist countries on climate change.
    Personally, I blame the poor harvests humanity has been suffering for 1,000′s of years on ‘the weather’.








     

  • Pingback: Egypt, Inkblots, Agendas and Feeding 9 Billion - NYTimes.com

  • http://gryposaurus.wordpress.com/ grypo

    Harrywr2

    Now we are getting into another area then just looking at the curves that PielkeJr put on his page.  If we can agree that ‘weather’ causes food spikes, then we can forget about commodities (unless more evidence is introduced) for now.  We can also forget about the past long term charts because we can agree that past weather has also created food price spikes, similar to now.  So then we are left to argue what led to the weather?  Can we attribute the changing climate to the droughts and floods?  I only ask that the questions be left to explore rather than automatically rejected as crankery.  Because if you look around, some pretty smart people who’ve been looking at this stuff for decades are talking about it a lot.  Not just Romm, and not just Krugman

  • harrywr2

    #11
    Occams razor

    In 1975 The Soviets had a harvest failure due to extreme weather and the Australians had flooding do to La Nina.
    Exactly the same conditions as now.
    The Australian floods were blamed on climate change, but they are no worse then the LaNina floods that ocurred in Australia between 1973 and 1975.
    I seriously doubt Krugman or Romm has looked into the causes of the 1975 spike.
    As far as the size Romm’s or Krugman’s brain-pans I don’t know. I was a National Merit Scholar many moons ago. Does that make me smarter or dumber then them?
    I also spent a year in the Middle East courtesy of President Carter working for a 3 star Genera(He was area commander, Centcom did not yet exist). Does that make me more or less qualified to pontificate on matters middle eastern then someone who worked as a policy wonk in Washington or writes a column for a newspaper?






     

  • http://gryposaurus.wordpress.com/ grypo

    Occams Razor cuts both ways here.  In fact, as everyone knows, the simplest known explanation for the temperatures at the moment are CO2.  The simplest explanation for the global flooding is increase in evaporation and for certain areas, El Nina.  Any look at the past Australian floods has to take into account the adaption used since then.   The report on that is not available yet, as far as I know.

    And I am not insulting your intelligence, nor am I talking about Romm or Krugman when I say smart experts are discussing the link between CO2 and recent weird weather.  I’m talking about the entire climate science community.

  • Jack Hughes

    Which experts should we believe?

    Is there an expert on experts to help us out?

  • Lewis Deane

    As I said before, Krugman’s NYT article misleadingly cherry picked various worldwide agricultural yearly production figures – in fact, for instance, wheat production, one of the most staple of staple products, is up by some way – as if there was merely the producers, on the one side, and the ultimate consumers, on the other, a simple ‘supply and demand’ between these and no world market in between!If this was merely caused by ‘climate disruption of food production’ then how is it that agriculture commodities verses other commodities can have remained stable? If the former where the case, then food commodities would have inflated visa vie these other commodities. Or does ‘climate change’, in KrugRomm land (like it!) account for copper – up from around $1.25 two years ago to $4.59 a pound now – or oil, over $100 dollars a barrel again, or gold etc etc.  To put it simply, if you print trillions of dollars, it must buy something – hence inflation. Either Krugman is totally ignorant of his alleged subject or I would not like to say? Noble prize, my a–!

  • Sashka

    I see nothing nuanced about pasting a page of Romm’s delirious ramblings into the post.

  • http://www.homestarrunner.com EEB

    A little off-topic, but anytime someone hits me with anything from the likes of Krugman or Romm I counter with Coulter and Limbaugh. They never get it, though.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Apples & oranges. In terms of style and substance.

  • http://rustneversleeps.wordpress.com rustneversleeps

    Anytime someone hits me with anything from the likes of Coulter or Limbaugh I counter with with these guys. The style is largely the same, but it shows how it can be done with more substance.

  • Steven Sullivan

    harrywr #5: “So if Global Warming is the cause of food price spikes now, what was the cause of food price spikes in the 1970″²s?”

    This is a nonsequitur at best.  It’s like asking ‘if global warming in the past wasn’t anthropogenic, how can it be now?’

  • Steven Sullivan

    this is from Revkin’s nuanced big picture:
    “When you look behind dueling posts and columns, it’s clear that the building and long-lasting influence of humans on the climate system is progressively tipping the odds toward outcomes that can be bad for agriculture in many struggling places”

    To me, that’s a rather mild and unobjectionable account of the status quo, but I sense that there a bloc here at CAS — several members of which comment on this very thread — that vehemently rejects such nuances as being fantasies, if not propaganda.




     

  • http://rustneversleeps.wordpress.com rustneversleeps

    There is, on average, about 4% more water vapour in the atmosphere today than there was 30-40 years ago. This is mostly due to increased evaporation, mostly due to increased temperatures. That water vapour change is not conjecture, it is empirically observed reality. To not think that this might be leading to more drought and more extreme precipitation events would be truly odd. And to not think if there were more drought and extreme precipitation events would have a negative impact on food production would be equally odd.

    Seems to me this series of blog posts here – and many of the responses – tends to be a support of the odd.

  • Sashka

    Could you build a logical link between greater amount of moisture in the air and more drought and more extreme precipitation?

    While you are at that, could you post a web link confirming those 4%?

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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