Few things keep the world running like coffee. It's the often underappreciated yet critical element relied upon by world leaders and factory workers alike. From sleepless parents to awestruck astronauts, coffee is everywhere, keeping adults alert and focused on the tasks at hand. Even climate scientists love their coffee, an irony not lost on Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, who says climate change could threaten the coffee industry as we know it.
“Make no mistake,” Schultz told Time magazine in a recent interview, “climate change is going to play a bigger role in affecting the quality and integrity of coffee.”
As the planet's temperatures increase, the forests where coffee shrubs love to thrive will face more droughts and shorter growing seasons.
Starbucks is so concerned about coffee's future that it's now funding research at a farm in Costa Rica -- and making the company's findings public.
"It may be hard for people to understand why we are sharing all this information,” Schultz told Time. “If we don’t, there’s going to be tremendous adverse pressure on the coffee industry."
Climate researchers have been speculating on coffee's future for several years. In 2016, the Climate Institute released a report saying the regions where the fickle coffee shrubs will grow could be reduced by as much as 50 percent by 2050. Another study released last year said that the number of suitable growing regions in Latin America could drop by 88 percent in the same time period.
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Like Starbucks, a growing number of companies have begun taking action to protect crops such as coffee, "While rising temperatures have caught many industries flat-footed, coffee companies have responded in force, bolstering their presence on the ground in coffee-growing countries like Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Indonesia," Time reports. "Instead of just purchasing coffee, they work with small farms to help them adapt to changing conditions, providing seeds, monitoring production and suggesting new agricultural practices."
But like all other areas impacted by climate change, coffee needs international support. It needs industries and governments to stand firm on emissions regulations, not bow out of the Paris Agreement. It needs consumers as well to vote with their dollars in supporting brands and companies actively working to protect crops like coffee.
“We have to remove ourselves from the politics,” Schultz says, “and do everything we can to preserve and enhance our industry and our company.”
But for now, the future of coffee "remains at the mercy of a global population that continues to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere," reports Time. "Average temperatures are expected to rise by more than 5.5°F by 2100 even if countries follow through on their commitments to reduce global warming," a number far below the UN's goal of keeping temps below 3.6°F -- and it's far too warm for that perfect cup of coffee, no matter what temperature you prefer yours at.
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