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. 

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