Some (slightly re-heated) comments on Climate Change (& Coffee)

Warning: This post contains curmudgeonly chest-beating, credit-taking and self-serving horn-tooting that some readers may find objectionable; especially in view of the tragic situation that the author is claiming to have foreseen.

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First the chest-beating: in 1996 I was Christmas shopping for some CD’s at the now-extinct Tower Records outlet on Sunset Blvd and was walking back to my car parked across the street. I walked past Book Soup, an independent book store (that still thrives, apparently) and in the window I noticed what was then Bill McKibben’s new book “The End of Nature,” prominently displayed. I walked in and ended up buying several copies to use as my annual gift offering to friends & customers in the coffee business.  This idea was inspired merely by what I read on the dust jacket of the book (the same basic info can be found below in the description of the newer edition that I’ve cut & pasted from Amazon–Irony Intended!–below). My inscriptions to my friends and customers all said something to the effect of, “Holy Crap — looks like we need to find another way to make a living.” (I don’t intentionally choose gifts that are likely to disturb and annoy, but it often seems to work out that way.)

Lately, there has been a lot of press and publicity extant (not extinct) noting that the limited land areas available for the production of high quality coffee are decreasing in size. Additionally, it has been observed that the even more limited land areas that provide safe harbor for the “wild” gene pool are also imperiled.

Change, as we all know, is inevitable.  But it has only been over the course of the past few years that we have come to understand that we cannot assume that our natural world is a constant — while we knew that our climate had changed (there was an ice age, after all) and that it might alter in the distant future (hey, there might be ANOTHER ice age) we never expected to SEE it change.  Every adult today was born into a  natural world that, it could be assumed, would, barring meteorite strike, remain as constant as day and night and the monthly lunar cycle. Today we are witnessing it change not only during the average human life span but over the span of a few years.

But, obviously, our worries with regard to coffee, while of singular importance for millions of people around the world, not to mention coffee drinkers who care about the taste of their coffee, are but a feather on the scale that shall measure and decide our fates.

Coffee, to whisk in another metaphor, is one of the many canaries that are tipping off their roost into our collective mine shaft. How many will it take?

In 2005 I asked the president of a small cooperative of coffee farmers in Huila, Colombia what actions he was taking to account for the possibility that it might become impossible to grow high quality coffee at the elevations where most of his members had farms. I expected him to either express befuddlement or to tell me, with God-fearing right-wing vigor (most small coffee farmers ARE, despite their willingness to humor and take advantage of “Fair Trade” schemes, extremely conservative both economically AND socially). Instead this businessman conveyed the following (and I am paraphrasing, but, at the same time, I will try to convey his professionalism, thoughtfulness and diligence.): “We take climate change very seriously and we are taking actions to prepare for it. Our Co-op has purchased, collectively, substantial acreage at elevations up to 1,000 feet higher than where most of our farms are currently located. We are conducting production trials there and we are also experimenting with different coffee varietals to see which ones are most able to produce good coffee in warmer climates. We also need to adjust for the fact that we will be growing coffee in a much drier climate and that the trees, if the changes that we anticipate come to pass, will be much more vulnerable to diseases and insects.” Hopefully, these words speak for themselves.

Most sentient folks without a financial stake in professing otherwise will agree that human activity is having a profound impact on our natural environment, certainly, the coffee farmer I just quoted, think so, and he had NO political ax to grind, just the opposite, in fact. I think we should be grateful that such folks are able to make such eloquent and straightforward observations…they drive home, by specific example, the urgency and palpability of the situation we find ourselves in, and that is good. But to stay there and not extrapolate to actions that we can take personally and need to urgently address collectively, and FAST, is shortsighted (but perhaps not as shortsighted as my previously-noted ego-centric investment in this subject).

In the here-and-now, though, (why not, once in a while?) MY observation is that worrying about THIS aspect or THAT aspect is (to haul out yet another metaphor) little more than adjusting the deck chairs for breeze and view as the great ship Earth…the vessel that has safely carried us here, carried you and me here, despite all of our depredations to date, is sinking.

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Here is a link, to another blog, one conducted by a friend of mine (I hope! I just sent him a rather (typically) weird email ) who offers a more tactical and pragmatic approach to this subject (THIS post inspired me to write the post above, one I have been thinking about for sometime, although I not SURE the exposition reflects that):

http://petergiuliano.tumblr.com/post/39328416900/the-pledge-im-making-this-new-year

And here is a paper I just came across, addressing this topic vis-à-vis coffee farming in Costa Rica:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1646882

…and another article that popped up (it’s hard to AVOID them!):

Climatic factors directly impact the volatile organic compound fingerprint in green Arabica coffee bean as well as coffee beverage quality

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The End of Nature, Bill McKibben, first published in 1996  – The following blurb on the book is taken from Amazon, I don’t have the thing set up (yet) where if you buy the book I get ten cents, but when I do, dear reader, I will let you know. Here is the link, notwithstanding my commercial ineptitude:

The End of Nature by Bill McKibben

Release Date: June 13, 2006

Reissued on the tenth anniversary of its publication, this classic work on our environmental crisis features a new introduction by the author, reviewing both the progress and ground lost in the fight to save the earth.

This impassioned plea for radical and life-renewing change is today still considered a groundbreaking work in environmental studies. McKibben’s argument that the survival of the globe is dependent on a fundamental, philosophical shift in the way we relate to nature is more relevant than ever. McKibben writes of our earth’s environmental cataclysm, addressing such core issues as the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and the depletion of the ozone layer. His new introduction addresses some of the latest environmental issues that have risen during the 1990s. The book also includes an invaluable new appendix of facts and figures that surveys the progress of the environmental movement.

More than simply a handbook for survival or a doomsday catalog of scientific prediction, this classic, soulful lament on Nature is required reading for nature enthusiasts, activists, and concerned citizens alike.

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