Last week I wrote about climate change and water, which are pretty basic issues, but this week, as noted above, it’s time to get our heads around the impacts of climate change that could really hit home with ordinary folks – the rising prices of chocolate and coffee.
Reese Halter, an Australian born environmentalist, has an article on The Huffington Post website that looks at yet more recent evidence of the accelerating speed of climate change and its impact on what have become for Americans commodities so integral to everyday life that few would want to even think about living without them.
Halter begins with a reference to an Associated Press story with yet more unsettling news about rising carbon emissions from the National Oceanic and Atmoshperic Administration. A carbon monitoring station near a volcano in Mauna Loa, Hawaii — far from any major greenhouse gas spewers — found carbon dioxide levels have jumped by 2.67 parts per million since 2011 to total just under 395 parts per million.
That’s the second highest rise in carbon emissions since 1959, which is when record keeping began, AP journalist Seth Borenstein reported. The culprits, he said, are coal-burning plants in the developing world.
Only 1998 had a bigger annual increase in carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas from human activity. That year, 2.93 parts per million of CO2 was added. From 2000 to 2010, the world averaged a yearly rise of just under 2 parts per million. Levels rose by less than 1 part per million in the 1960s.
I should also add here that many scientists have said that 350 parts per million is the upper limit for carbon dioxide the earth can tolerate without dramatic climate change.
The news gets worse. Not only are we pouring more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but plants and the world’s oceans, our natural carbon storage units, last year absorbed less CO2 than they normally would have, according to John Reilly, co-director of Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Plant and ocean absorption of carbon varies naturally year to year.
But, the AP article notes, carbon dioxide rates in the atmosphere are now rising faster than the worst-case scenarios climate scientists typically use for their simulations and reports.
So, what does this mean for our morning lattes and afternoon or evening chocolate fix?
“Coffee beans are the second most globally traded commodity next to oil,” Halter writes.
Higher temperatures, longer droughts and more intense rainfalls have brought coffee producers around the globe more resilient pests, i.e. coffee berry borer, and higher incidences of plant disease, i.e. coffee rust. Furthermore, intense water stress associated with vicious droughts in southern Sudan are driving wild coffee plants to extinction, now predicted to occur by 2020.
Maxwell House, Yuban and Folgers all increased their coffee prices by 25 percent between 2010 and 2011, while Starbucks upped its coffee prices by almost 20 percent in 2011.
The story is the same for chocolate, Halter said.
West Africa produces more than 40 percent of the world’s cocoa. In the past decade, droughts around the globe have caused the price of cocoa to double.
Rising carbon dioxide concentrations could mean ever-higher temperatures and ongoin drought across the cacao-producing regions of Africa, putting thousands of small-scale growers out of business and pushing chocolate prices to new, luxury-commodity highs.
How quickly can we cold-turkey off fossil fuels? Grand Rapids, Mich. has set itself the goal of getting 100 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. In Germany, the deadline for 100 percent renewable power is 2050.
Iceland already gets all of its electricity from renewable sources, either hydropower or geothermal.
California will require new homes to be carbon neutral, or net zero, by 2020 and new commercial buildings by 2030.
It isn’t that we can’t. The evidence is stacking up that we are past the tipping point where climate change can be stopped or managed.
High gas prices haven’t worked; super storms and droughts aren’t making much of an impression.
Maybe if chocolate and coffee prices go off the charts, disgruntled and caffeine-tweaked American voters will demand their lawmakers find the political will to tackle climate change and set an aggressive national renewable energy agenda.