Originally published by Sara Boboltz for The Huffington Post
While the next four decades aren’t likely to see an agricultural apocalypse, it’s pretty likely that some foods will be harder to come by — due to increased costs and decreased supply — as harvesting becomes more difficult due to rising temperatures and irregular weather patterns spurred by climate change.
Here are a few of the food items you should be most concerned about.
A decent cup of coffee.
The Arabica coffee bean comes from finicky plants growing in developing nations heating up around the equator. (There are other variants, such as Robusta, but most people agree they’re gross.) Arabica is also particularly susceptible to a disease called “coffee rust,” which is pretty much what it sounds like — a rust-like fungus that turns leaves dark brown, causing a lower yield of poorer quality and even death for the plant. Climate change is seen as the main culprit in the coffee rust explosion, the devastating effects of which caused the Guatemalan president to declare a national state of emergency in 2013.
A 2011 study predicted a downfall of the poor Arabica tree in Nicaragua and Veracruz, Mexico if nothing is done over the coming decades. By 2050, Nicaragua, which produces about 17 percent of the world’s coffee supply at present, “will hardly be a coffee producer anymore,” according to Tim Schilling, executive director of the World Coffee Research Center. Instead of sourcing beans from Central America, he said, “you’ll be doing it from Texas or the south of France.”
In an effort to protect their core product, Starbucks recently purchased a hilly Costa Rican coffee farm for “research” — or rather, for creating a hybridized tree that can survive drought, plagues and probably nuclear warfare. Cheers to you, Starbucks!
A whopping 70 percent of the world’s cocoa — a particularly heat-sensitive crop — is grown in West Africa, and that region is expected to warm up in the coming decades. Sure, farmers could just plant trees higher up on a hillside, except for the fact that Africa is generally pretty flat.
A 2011 report on cocoa farming funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation predicted a 2.3 degree global temperature increase by 2050, which could send “yields crashing and prices soaring” as more and more land becomes unsuitable for cultivation. That’s unfortunate for the world’s chocoholics, yes, but also for its cocoa farmers, many of whom depend solely on their fair-trade, small-scale operations to get by. However, the report suggested a crisis could be averted by pouring funds into researching heat-resistant trees.
The price of peanut butter is already going up, but we may also start seeing less of this household favorite thanks to droughts on peanut farms. Peanuts — which are actually a legume — are also finicky things that require 20 to 40 inches of rain within a certain timeframe. Too little rain overall makes for a dry crop, while enough rain too far from harvest time leads to toxic mold.
According to a 2009 U.S. Global Change Research Program report, these trends could be a picture of the future — conditions in states that grow the most peanuts are likely to become drier in the coming decades. Might want to hold your PB&J a little closer.
Three decades ago, vintners first started noticing changes to their harvests, before climate research took off to the extent it has today. Grapes were ripening sooner — two weeks earlier than they once did — with increased sugar content and less acidity. Their growth was inhibited by droughts. So winemakers have begun switching to more heat-resistant species of grape, trying to adapt to the inevitable change.
But if change comes more quickly, the famous grape-stompers of Bordeaux may need to abandon their vines. The most “pessimistic scenario,” one expert told The Daily Telegraph, is “that the climate will no longer be suitable for Cabernet and Merlot wines by the middle of the century.” (Champagne makers, however, aren’t complaining yet.)
As for U.S. wineries, a 2006 study suggested the end of this century could see an 81 percent reduction in premium wine-grape growing regions. Other regions with more favorable temperature conditions could be used, but temperature is only one factor in growing the best of the best grapes — soil health and knowledge of the trade being equally important.
“Wine is tied to place,” said David Graves of Napa’s Saintsbury wine company, “more than any other form of agriculture.”
Apple trees, as we all know, shed their leaves and go dormant each winter. Turns out this chill period leading up to the spring is crucial — the trees actually keep track of how much winter weather they get, blossoming fully only once they’ve reached the end of their cold period. There’s been little success growing apples without this chilling period, since the plants originate in areas with cold winters.
Thanks to rising winter temperatures, we might start seeing smaller and smaller apple harvests, which means fewer and more expensive apples. And the ones we do get could start tasting differently than we remember them, too. According to Japanese researchers, climate change is making Fuji apples softer and sweeter than ever before, since the plants are tricked with warm temperatures into blossoming earlier.
Other fruits whose chilling requirements could also be affected by warmer winters include peaches, plums, apricots and pears. (Let’s all learn how to make preserves, quick.)
Sure, you might think water isn’t “delicious” (and it’s certainly not a food), but without it these other things don’t really matter. According to a 2010 report commissioned by the National Resources Defense Council, around one-third of U.S. counties “will face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of global warming.” Between 2030 and 2050, problems sourcing freshwater are “anticipated to be significant” in the country’s major agricultural and urban regions.
Anyone who’s paid attention to the news in the recent past has noticed reports of droughts — although exactly how linked they are to Earth’s warming trend is still a question for scientists. But what seems likely is a decrease in snowfall and earlier snow melts due to warmer temperatures, which could affect regions that rely on gradually melting snow as a freshwater supply.
Two of the most important ingredients for the beer industry face an unknown future. Not only will finding a reliable water supply become an obstacle for brewers in some areas, but so will obtaining hops in the coming decades — particularly specialty hops used in specialty beers. Scientists are already trying to breed more heat-resistant varieties and implement better irrigation systems, but brewers stress the importance of the issue.
“This is not a problem that’s going to happen someday,” Jenn Orgolini of Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery explained. “If you drink beer now, the issue of climate change is impacting you right now.”
Hops require — surprise, surprise — a cold winter and a hot summer. For U.K. farmers, warm winters and springs have resulted in early-blooming crops with small yields. Saaz hops are particularly hurting. Malting barley production is also expected to decline in the coming decades, resulting in more expensive beer or worse — less beer.
Fish are probably shrinking in size, according to the researchers behind a 2012 study. Global warming, they wrote, is likely to decrease the amount of oxygen in oceans worldwide, which fish need in order to grow. Less oxygen will lead to smaller fish — their average weight is expected to drop 14 to 24 percent by 2050 — that will seek out the colder, more oxygen-rich waters of the north and south.
Fish weight is “expected to have large implications” on the marine food chain. It’s possible that small fish will thrive as their usual predators shrink.
Costa Rican farmers are blaming global warming on the devastating pests that are destroying their harvests and, back in December, caused the nation to declare a national emergency. Changes in rainfall and temperature favor the bugs that cause blemishes on the crop, which exporters may then refuse. They also make the plants more susceptible to disease.
For example, a soil fungus that previously wiped out the Gros Michel species of banana back in the 1950s has somehow made it to Central America and is now threatening crops. (Gros Michel bananas were replaced by the Cavendish variety we currently know and love.) Both insects and fungi are bad news for the small-scale farmers of Latin America.
“I can tell you with near certainty that climate change is behind these pests,” said the director of Costa Rica’s Agriculture and Livestock Ministry’s State Phytosanitary Services.
All photos via Getty.