8 Delicious Treats Climate Change Could Destroy
It’s been said that climate change is a looming giant so massive we tiny humans can’t even fathom it, and that’s what’s holding us back from taking the problem seriously and altering our behavior accordingly. Or that its current effects are so removed from our daily lives—icebergs melting in Greenland, islands sinking under rising sea levels in the South Pacific—that it’s hard for us to truly care.
To that I say: chocolate. Or coffee. Or ice cream. The list goes on, but the point is, our yummiest delights are endangered by the perilous weather effects created by human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. (So are vitally important food crops like corn and beans, but hey, we’re trying to hit you where it hurts.) So, ponder that the next time you knock back a beer at happy hour, or top your toddler’s pancakes with maple syrup, or celebrate a special occasion with champagne, oysters, and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Here are eight little luxuries we could all lose in our lifetime, and there are many, many more where that came from.
Whether you’re a cork-sniffing snob or a broke Two Buck Chuck guzzler, climate change could one day get between you and your favorite wine. Bottles won’t be disappearing from your local liquor store shelves anytime soon, but emerging changes in weather and season length are already signaling havoc for wine growers. Earlier ripening is beginning to alter crops, adversely affecting the fruit’s flavor compounds, and sometimes raising the resultant wine’s alcohol content to higher than desirable levels. And as with other agricultural products, when temperatures rise, ideal growing regions shift—an ominous trend for an industry so tied to local conditions and terroir. A 2011 Stanford study predicted that in California, which produces the vast majority of U.S. wine, half of all premium grape-growing land could be lost to climate change by 2040.
Global temperature changes and unpredictable weather certainly mean trouble for the wine business, but at least for now, there is a fleeting silver lining: For some growers, operating in regions that were once too cold for certain grapes, or working with fruit that benefits from early ripening, warming trends are actually helping produce better wine than was possible without the effects of climate change. —Jed Oelbaum
You don’t have to be a Great British Bake Off contestant to be aware of vanilla’s prevalence in sweet treats ranging from chocolate chip cookies to cheesecake. And then, of course, there’s ice cream, not to mention perfume, soda, liquor, coffee—it’s estimated that 18,000 products contain the heady, sweet olfactory goodness of vanilla.
There is imitation vanilla, most of which is a delicious chemical “byproduct of paper production or derivative of coal tar” according to Cooks’ Illustrated, but is also readily available and super cheap. Which is important. Because these days, cured, pure vanilla beans are going for a whopping $600 a kilo, 10 times what they sold for in 2014. True vanilla—which is painstakingly hand pollinated to this day—has never been a bargain, but its more recent price spikes have to do with extreme weather affecting Madagascar, home to 80 percent of the vanilla market. This year’s paltry crop was plagued first with drought and then by Tropical Storm Enawo, which ripped through East Africa in March, displacing half a million people and killing 78. Coupled with the food industry’s newfound allegiance to “all-natural” ingredients—as opposed to that yummy tar-derived artificial vanilla flavor—prices shot through the roof. While other countries also produce vanilla, they too have climate issues to contend with, mainly increasingly unpredictable rains.
It gets worse. The run on vanilla prices due to scarcity and Madagascar’s overwhelming economic reliance on the bean have led to desperate practices in that country, according to several industry experts, leading to vanilla that’s low quality, but still expensive. “It’s basically the industrialization of an artisanal process, with typical consequences,” wrote Josephine Lochhead Schmidt, president of Cook Flavoring Company, which has been procuring vanilla in Madagascar for a century. “We never thought that on our 100th anniversary we’d be hoping that the demand for pure vanilla recedes,” she wrote this year. —Callie Enlow
Many adults drink coffee in some form, and it’s been that way since at least the 13th century. But due to climate change’s harmful effects—like rising temperatures, droughts, floods, and rising sea levels—your daily fix might get a lot more difficult to find or, at the very least, become a lot more expensive.
Coffee needs mild temperatures and lots of water to grow, which makes subtropical regions like Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia ideal. But in Brazil, where more than 15 percent of the world’s coffee is grown, drought, heat, and deforestation in the country’s “coffee belt” is drying out the land and making many farmers anxious about their future. A recent report on climate change in Vietnam—the second largest coffee exporter in the world—predicts that rising temperatures could cost the country half of its coffee production by 2050. Meanwhile, warmer temperatures and drier weather in Ethiopia could cause the country to lose up to 60 percent of farmland suitable for growing coffee by the end of the century.
So maybe it’s time to start weaning yourself off your coffee addiction, because no one wants to be around someone dealing with caffeine withdrawals, especially if it’s caused by climate change. —Liz Biscevic
In the Pacific Northwest, oyster farmers started to notice their oyster larvae were dying up and down the coast in the early 2000s, but it took a couple more years before farmers knew why: ocean acidification, a decrease in the ocean’s Ph balance brought on by an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The acidification, described as “global warming’s evil twin” and a problem in oceans worldwide, causes corroding and weakened shells in shellfish. By the end of the century, Ocean Portal, part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Initiative, predicts a 25 percent decrease in mussel shell production and a 10 percent decrease for oysters.
Oysters in the Gulf of Mexico contend with even more acidification. When pesticides, sewage, and urban runoff pour from the Mississippi River into the Gulf, microscopic organism like algae eat the pollution, then die and sink to the sea floor. They start to decompose, sucking oxygen out of the water and increasing the acidity in the area around them. Fish that can get out of the way, do. Slower moving creatures like oysters can’t run for air, so the population starts to die. The official term for it is hypoxia, but fisherman just call it the dead zone—and the 2017 dead zone is predicted to be the largest on record in the Gulf, approximately the same size as the state of New Jersey.
The hotter ocean temperatures aren’t great for your health either. Warming waters are leading to an increase in Vibrio, bacteria that can produce a life-threatening illness in anyone who eats an affected raw oyster. The bacteria have long been found on shellfish in warmer climates, but as the ocean heats up, Vibrio increases in both warmer and historically cooler climates, like the Gulf of Maine, stretching from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. —Angela Colley
By 2020, the demand for chocolate is set to surpass supply by 1 million tons—that’s 184,000,000,000 Hershey’s Kisses. It’s not just that we’re all turning into chocoholics, but that climate change is forcing Africa’s cocoa farmers to produce more lucrative and sustainable crops. Rising temperatures in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire—the countries where 70 percent of cocoa is grown—have significantly reduced the amount of farmland prime for cocoa production. To make matters worse, by 2050, most of those countries’ growing areas will become even less suitable for cocoa if temperatures rise by the predicted 2 degrees Celsius.
In the short term, that means your favorite chocolatey dessert is going to get more expensive, but if temperatures continue to rise, real chocolate, the kind that comes from cocoa and not from a chemical lab—will be out of reach for most people. —LB
Despite what your local brew-pub taps may indicate, there are quite a few people eagerly anticipating the day that obnoxiously bitter IPAs finally run their course. But even the haters hope the ale’s key ingredient can survive climate change.
Hops, the flowering plant responsible for beer’s face-puckering and sometimes floral notes, are finicky—and like the residents of the Pacific Northwest, where a quarter of the world’s hops are grown, they don’t withstand heat well. That’s particularly worrisome since the area just experienced a historic heatwave on top of generally warmer summers. The flowers are also too delicate to survive climate change-related inclement weather, such as hail, and require a massive amount of water to be grown commercially in the best of conditions.
Even in Germany, another key hops-producing area and one with super-efficient water conservation techniques, this past summer has been so dry that the forthcoming harvest will likely fall short of demand. Same goes for nearby Czech Republic.
In the U.S., some of the largest hops growers in the world are scavenging the Southwest for hardier, drought-resistant varietals. But don’t get your hops hopes up just yet—according to Outside Magazine, these sturdier wild hops often “have an oniony or garlicky stank to them; some are downright funky.” —CE
As anyone who buys real-deal maple syrup can tell you, that sweet, fragrant friend of pancakes and other delicious carbs is a costly commodity: It’s considerably more valuable than oil by volume. And in Canada, where they love the sticky stuff so much they put a maple leaf on their flag, criminals were able to make off with $18 million worth of syrup in a 2012 heist. But one day soon, breakfast’s favorite ooze could become even pricier, as climate shifts push maple production northward and alter the syrup’s quality.
Simply put, maple syrup needs the cold, so warmer, shorter winters mean less syrup. And with weird weather, maple farmers are reporting darker syrup that is less sweet than in previous years. “So, while it used to take 25 gallons of sap to make a gallon of pure maple syrup, it now takes 50,” Barry Rock, Professor of Natural Resources at the University of New Hampshire, told National Geographic in 2015. For now, scientists are experimenting with methods of getting more sap from existing trees to stem climate-related syrup losses. In the long term, though, the maple business faces a host of dire unanswered questions that could upend the industry, and leave the world’s waffles perilously dry. —JO
Your chocolate-covered answer to last-minute Valentine’s Day gift panic might be in trouble. Strawberry harvests depend on a cool, wet winter and a warm spring, making coastal states like California (the largest supplier) and Florida (the second largest) ideal growing areas. But as temperatures rise, strawberry harvest numbers will likely start to dwindle. Research from the USDA found unusually warm temperatures shorten the growing cycle, meaning the fruit won’t have time to fully develop, or grow at all. Warmer temps also put the plants at risk for a host of strawberry-killing bugs and diseases. And this isn’t just some far-off problem for your grandkids—Florida is already seeing some fickle harvest years.
During the early stages of the 2015/2016 growing season in Florida, above average temperatures delayed flowering and fruit growth, pushing the state’s harvesting back, according to the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center. Then in the 2016/2017 season, the temperatures stayed milder longer, causing a strawberry surge in the region. Farmers can’t predict the fluctuating weather now, so growing seasons are more of a gamble, which in turn can drive up prices at the grocery store.
Coastal erosion isn’t doing the fragile fruit any favors either. As the sea levels rise, the risk of saline mingling with the water supply increases. Since strawberry crops are intolerant to salt, the USDA warns that cultivating salt-resistant plants might be the only solution. —AC