Need a New Reason to Hate Climate Change? It's Coming for Your Coffee

It often feels like the repercussions of climate change may not apply directly to you. But here's something that will hit home – a somber prediction for your coffee supply, and all those workers who farm it. 

A problem truly global in scale and epic in proportion, climate change is perhaps the defining issue of our time. Often, however, it is presented to us as being so abstract it seems impossibly distant. When we are warned that we may someday “only be able to see polar bears in zoos” or that "coastal properties will be submerged" we are offered a warnings that, in our minds, do not affect or concern us.

But what effects to daily life in the Western world could we expect without action? How will a changing climate really affect my life?

For those of you looking for something a little more concrete, a new report suggests that the effects of climate change may radically affect one of the most traded commodities on the planet. That black liquid which makes the world go round and allows civilization to function. I speak, of course, of coffee.  

The report, put out by The Climate Institute, describes the effects of climate change on various coffee-growing nations and the resultant effects on the plants and those who grow them. Coffea arabica plants, which produce 70% of all commercial coffee, can be adversely affected by even a half-degree change in typical weather conditions. This sensitivity to temperature puts the plant at increased risk of the effects of climate change.

In Central America the average temperature has risen by a full degree Celsius since 1960. In Ethiopia the average temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees. This increase is enough to have notable effects on the plants. In Tanzania the productivity per hectare of coffee has fallen by half since the 1960s due to changes in temperature. The thirst of the coffee plant also puts them at risk for droughts, which climate change stands to both cause and exacerbate across the coffee belt.

Indeed, the report cites studies that claim that by 2050 the area of the world suitable to growing coffee will be cut by half. Coffee production is likely to then be pushed to higher elevations to take advantage of lower temperatures, but this will not be enough to make up for lost lowland areas. The environmental effects of creating new plantations in these areas is also likely to be negative.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity by developing nations, and a major disruption in the ability of producer nations to export it could cause dramatic ripples if not waves across their economies. Millions of people make a living in the production, processing, transport, and sale of coffee; their livelihoods would stand to take a walloping as growing areas decrease and prices rise.

So, can’t survive without your coffee in morning? The specter of climate change looms over you. In the event that the warming predicted in the report comes to pass, your cup of coffee will become much more expensive, and now that you know all the above, it may also carry a aftertaste more bitter than usual, for all those workers in the coffee belt left without the means to make a living as conditions worsen. Not only that, but the economic effects will cost the West millions in increased foreign aid and other expenditures.

For more on how global warming will affect our food supply and crown two new world powers, here's Parag Khanna. 

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.

The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.

For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.

A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."

Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.

Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.

As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.

<div class="ad-tag"> <div class="ad-tag__inner"> <div class="gallery_ad"></div> </div> </div>
Keep reading Show less