Andreas Späth

Life without coffee?

2016-09-12 07:04

Andreas Wilson-Späth


I wonder what it’s going to take for all of us to take climate change seriously. I mean really seriously – in a way that will make us actually fix the problem. Perhaps the threat of life without coffee will finally push us over the edge and see us insist on a fossil-free future?


It’s certainly not the menace of rising sea levels, melting glaciers, more severe droughts or bigger storms. Because those things are already happening. Unless you’re one of the relatively few people who are currently affected, say because you’re living on an island that is slowly becoming submerged or in a city that’s in the path of more and more hurricanes, you’re probably still not overly concerned. When are we actually going get up and do something about the problem?


Maybe the fact that global warming is in the process of inflicting serious damage to the world’s coffee supply will finally stir most of us into action. After all, civilisation runs on the stuff – collectively we drink two and a quarter million cups of it per day. It’s not just that things would be significantly less fun without it – for many of us the process of getting going in the morning would become a physical and psychological near-impossibility.


So how bad is the situation? Last month, the Sidney-based Climate Institute published a report entitled ‘A Brewing Storm: The climate change risk to coffee’ which was commissioned by Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand and will have you choke on your flat white.


Here are the key findings in a nutshell – actually make that one of those really tiny espresso cups.


The authors point out that “there is strong evidence that rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns are already affecting coffee yields, quality, pests, and diseases”. If nothing serious is done to mitigate the effects of climate change, the total extend of land on the planet suitable for growing coffee is forecast to be reduced by as much as 50 percent by 2050 as producing areas will steadily move away from the equator and to higher elevations, and yields will increasingly be curtailed by pests and diseases.


“By 2080, wild coffee, an important genetic resource for farmers, could become extinct”. The overall outcomes are likely to include price increases, supply shortages and drops in coffee aroma and flavour. None of which is good news for caffeine junkies.


The people who will bear the brunt of the crisis, however, are not wealthy consumers like you and me, but the over 20 million poor, smallholder coffee farmers who grow the vast majority of the world’s coffee supply and live in developing countries located in regions which are predicted to be among the most detrimentally impacted by global warming. According to the report, “over 120 million people in more than 70 countries rely on the coffee value chain for their livelihoods”. The economies of many coffee producing countries are highly dependent on the export of the commodity, which globally is worth about US$19 billion a year.


So what can you, as a concerned coffee lover who is not content with waiting for the crisis to escalate, do to help make things better?


According to John Connor, the CEO of The Climate Institute, “there are things we coffee drinkers can do to assist. The first step is to learn about these issues and the steps being taken by Fairtrade and others; the second is to take real action by choosing to buy only the brands that are carbon or climate neutral, provide a fair return to farmers and their communities while helping to build their capacity to adapt to climate change; third is to demand climate action from the coffee companies and our governments to ensure all products, business models and economies are carbon or climate neutral.”

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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