Evidence of climate change swirls in your morning coffee

President Donald Trump’s orders this week to begin the process to unwind President Barrack Obama’s actions to address climate change are deeply disappointing and misinformed.

The Trump administrations antagonism toward the science documenting climate change leave him in the minority among Americans, according to a study released by the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication. Even 49% Trump supporters acknowledge the reality of climate change and 80% of Americans support regulating or pricing carbon emissions.

Still, most Americans believe climate change will harm future generations but not them. Those pictures about stranded polar bears don’t hit home; glaciers left Illinois a long time ago. Many iconic images of climate change are distant and not relatable.

We have some time to challenge President Trump’s orders through Congress and the regulatory/legal process. So, what will motivate you? Maybe an empty coffee cup?

While writing this, I’m enjoying a terrific coffee from Papua New Guinea. The coffee is deeply rich and satisfying and naturally carries spicy after notes. Exploring the flavor and aroma variations in Arabica coffees from around the world is our joyful daily adventure.

But, what if your morning cup wasn’t available or too pricey. The future of my business is motivating me.

Major commodity coffee companies raised prices by as much as 25% in 2010-2011 in the face of declining production. We’ve had to raise prices, too. Coffee industry botanists point to climate change as the cause of diminished coffee farm production.

Coffee trees are sensitive but have adapted over time to tropical zones around the world, spreading from Ethiopia, the origin of coffee, often by theft, colonial domination and even seduction intrigue, around the tropical world to reach the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.

“Higher temperatures, long droughts punctuated by intense rainfall, more resilient pests and plant diseases—all of which are associated with climate change—have reduced coffee supplies dramatically in recent years,” writes the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A half degree increase in average temperatures can have harsh effect on production. Unseasonable rains can diminish the set of coffee flowers. Pests like borer beetles or rust fungus reach into higher altitudes where our precious specialty grade Arabica beans are grown.

Of course, people from Ethiopian farmers to scientists around the globe are working to blunt the most damaging effects.

Emma Sage, Specialty Coffee Association science manager, wrote for The Specialty Coffee Chronicle about a science project in Ethiopia. She starts with a startling anecdotal observation.

“Perhaps the most striking scene we encountered on this field trip was in the Harrar C region of Oromia, Ethiopia, on our way to a coffee farm to collect climate data. We passed a large plantation, reportedly very productive in past years, that was now deeply troubled. The majority of trees, stretching for kilometers along the road, were brown, dying, or dead. As far as the eye could see, under the shade trees the coffee plants stood like skeletons. Dead and dying, most of the plants were leafless and totally without blossoms or cherries,” Watson wrote.

This is directly unsettling to us because Harrar coffee we roasted in 2012 had earned a 94-point review from Coffee Review, ranking it among the best of that year. Most surely we can still get stellar coffees from Ethiopia and the African central highlands. We had a 93-point review from an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee earlier this year.

But 30 years of data in Ethiopia mark a 0.28 C increase in temperature per decade, shorter wet seasons and more hot days. The data are the work of coffee botanist Dr. Aaron Davis, Senior Research Leader of Plant Resources at Kew Gardens in London. Note that this sum is more than the half degree worried by the Union of Concerned Scientists and over a much shorter time than the coffee’s slow adaptation to new locations over centuries.

Encouragingly, Watson writes about how Davis, the Ethiopian Institution of Agricultural Research and farmers are working to blunt the changes. Many farms in Ethiopia use new irrigation methods and grow under shade trees that that protect coffee fruit set from harsher rainfalls, when the shortened wet season arrives.

At Conscious Cup Coffee Roasters, we import roughly 40,000 pounds of high-quality coffee beans a year. While our present is solid, our future is at risk by reports of declining production, diminished quality, interrupted harvests, spreading pests and disease, all affecting the fine Arabica coffee we adore.

So, it was encouraging recently to see conservative leaders promote a carbon tax begin to address the root cause of climate change and rising temperatures documented since the beginning of the industrial age. Even former skeptics like Stanford physicist Robert Muller have embraced that rapid climate change is real and caused by humans.

Ironically, the research by Muller and others that led to Muller’s conversion was funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation and startled a GOP-led Congressional hearing set to “debunk” climate science. But still, climate denial dominates the current Congress and administration, largely pushed from campaign-fund enriching lobbying from carbon-intensive industries.

Maybe you enjoyed the caress of the spring-like weather this February and like the prospects of not shoveling snow. But, wouldn’t losing your morning coffee wake you up to the real effects around the globe due to climate change? Are you ready to do what you can?

I belong to an organization, Citizens Climate Lobby, that proposes a different approach from the recent Republican leadership plan. We’ve promoted a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend with 100% of revenues returned to households. We lobby our Senators and representatives to join the efforts with the Climate Solutions Caucus, which is increasing its membership of “matched” Democrat and Republican members.

Maybe you can sit down over cup of deliciously hot coffee and give your congressional representative a call to join, too. Time is precious and the Trump administration is boasting of it’s actions to undo regulations that address climate change.
The best to you,

Jack Shipley

Co-owner, Conscious Cup Coffee Roasters, Crystal Lake, IL

Member, McHenry County Chapter, Citizens Climate Lobby