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How Climate Change is Monkeying Around with Your Favorite Foods


Here are just a few of the foods that climate change might affect drastically. John Hay/Getty Images
Here are just a few of the foods that climate change might affect drastically. John Hay/Getty Images

Climate change might seem to be something that affects polar bears and rain forests — in other words, a little removed from your everyday experiences. But what if it affected your favorite foods — the coffee that gets you started in the morning, the wine that relaxes you at night, or that liiitle piece of chocolate in the office candy bowl that you can't resist?

Actually, climate change is already having an impact on all those products as well as some of your other faves.

“I think we need to remember that these things are all at risk,” says Marcia DeLonge, an agroecologist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “And if we feel really strongly about being able to have affordable, delicious food that is grown in ways that are not contributing to a lot of the problems that we have today, then there are investments that we need to make now.”

DeLonge calls for more research into breeding plants and animals that are sustainable and more adaptable to climate change, and for programs to educate farmers.

It's needed badly, she says. Here's how climate change is monkeying around with your favorite foods.

Your Coffee

Every coffee-producing region of the world is under siege, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That could mean fewer beans, leading to different blends and higher prices.

Warming has led to a bigger habitat for fungus and pests who feed on coffee, which has hurt yields, according to the union. Andrea Illy, the chairman and CEO of Italian coffee company Illy, laid it all out for CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year:

"Coffee is one of the crops which is severely affected by climate change, which is a threat both in terms of too high temperature in some regions when it is produced, (and) a threat in terms of water security — either droughts or excessive rains — in certain other regions." 

Your Chocolate

According to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), more than half the world's cocoa comes from Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. CIAT estimates that rising temperatures will make some areas unsuitable for cocoa production by 2030. By 2050, much of West Africa will simply be too hot for cocoa.

“At a time when global demand for chocolate is rising fast, particularly in China, there is already upward pressure on prices,” CIAT's Peter Läderach said in a statement. “It's not inconceivable that this, combined with the impact of climate change, could cause chocolate prices to increase sharply.”

Your Wine

DeLonge says individual crops won't necessarily disappear. They'll simply have to be moved. Growing seasons may change, and that could affect the taste of the crop.

Such is the case with grapes and the grape's raison d'être: wine.

Scientists from NASA and Harvard looked into the relationship between climate change and early grape harvests in France for a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change earlier this year. Earlier harvests are not bad, necessarily. Earlier-ripening fruit is associated with higher-quality wines, the authors say.

The thing is, the study found that it used to take high temperatures and droughts to push grapes to mature early. Now, with steadily climbing temperatures, growers don't need the drought. That almost sounds good.

But nothing's ever that simple. A 2013 paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America warns that grape-growers may end up having to move their vineyards to higher elevations, even higher latitudes, to avoid too-warm temperatures. Goodbye, Napa Valley.

Your Beer

Dozens of U.S. breweries last year signed the Brewery Climate Declaration to get out in front of the effects of climate change:

“Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.”

Without good ingredients .... well, this Australian brewer found out just how bad things can get.

Your Burgers

A good, juicy burger is probably not something we should be trying to save anyway. Beef is part of the problem, as this Center for Investigative Reporting video reveals:

Cows (and your burger), it turns out, aren't as much a victim of climate change — although rising temperatures and flooding certainly can impact the land that they take up and the grain that they feed on — as they are a cause of it. The methane they expel, the nitrous oxide from their manure, the water they use all has an effect on the planet and its climate. Methane has 21 times the climate changing power of carbon dioxide.

One stunning statistic: 6.5 pounds (2.9 kilograms) of greenhouse gasses are released for every quarter pounder you pound down. So maybe next time, go for chicken or a nice tofu burger instead.

You'll be better off for it. And your beer will be, too.


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