Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Munchable Soapbox: An Endangered Beverage (and more...)


Remain calm. Breathe. Your morning routine will be OK.

Well, at least for a while. A new study has predicted that wild Arabica coffee will have gone extinct by the end of the century due to climate change. According to a study in Ethiopia from the UK Royal Botanic Gardens, unfavorable weather conditions will negatively impact coffee output in Africa's largest coffee producing country. Increases in pests and diseases, as well as reductions in seed dispersers like birds, are expected to exacerbate the impacts. Now, it's important to note that this is not the commercial variety found in your coffee mug. However, wild varieties are what allow commercial growers to incorporate more genetic diversity into their production systems, and we know how important biological diversity is for adaptation and weathering shocks.

This is not the first time we've been warned about the pending doom of our favorite morning beverage because of climate change; nor is coffee the only commodity feeling the burn. With the flurry of news around coffee, cocoa almost got brushed under the carpet (or perhaps it was just trying to ride the coffee-induced climate high). Over 70% of the world's cocoa is sourced from West Africa - not necessarily the fine artisan chocolates, but the Hershey's, Mars, and Cadburys of the world. But cacao is a finicky tree, and has a pretty narrow temperature range of compatibility. The short of it is, the temperature in the most important growing regions is becoming to hot, and will exceed thresholds in the next 50 years.

And what can we do? Well, we should definitely be trying to mitigate climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But our crops will also have to adapt. Companies, like Starbucks, understand that their entire industry is at risk are working both to develop varieties better adapted to new conditions and to build resilience into the system as a whole, restoring the ecosystems. 

Did I say stay calm? I take that back. You're Cuppa Joe may be ok, but we have a lot of work ahead. So take a deep breath, a sip of coffee, and hope we can weather the effects of the greatest environmental challenge this and the coming generations face. (a bit melodramatic? Just ask our ice sheets...)

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