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Dealing with climate change

October 19, 2011
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By Bernie Pacyniak
Editor-in-Chief
pacynniakb@bnpmedia.com

I'll admit it, I was initially skeptical about the impact of climate change on the world. No doubt, it stemmed from my cynical and contrarian nature, one that prevents me from immediately joining a bandwagon.

As with many issues I examine to form an opinion about, I typically reject simplistic solutions out-of-hand. Consequently, when climate change alarmists were warning the world about the dire implications to come several years ago, I thought they might be crying wolf.

After all, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out on its web site regarding climate change, “the Earth’s climate has changed many times during the planet’s history.”

Moreover, past as well as recent snowfalls in Chicago seemed to suggest that global warming, as concerns the Windy City, didn’t apply. Nevertheless, the body of evidence continued to grow. Consider some of the facts I gleaned from the EPA: The Earth’s average temperature has increased by about 1.2° to 1.4° F during the last 100 years; the eight warmest years on record (since 1850) have all occurred since 1998, 2005 being the warmest; and mounting physical evidence detailing the shrinking of glaciers, rises in sea level, the thawing of the permafrost and disruptive changes in plant and animal life.

No longer can I ― although some politicians think otherwise ― argue that life on this planet isn’t at risk because of climate changes stemming from human impact. And while the changes aren’t always immediately dramatic, they have, during the course of the last few years, opened several eyes (including mine) about what’s going on.

Recently, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) released a study saying that the planet’s current cocoa-growing topography will be very different in 2050. It cited significant changes in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, where more than half of today’s cocoa is sourced.

Because of global warming, cocoa production will begin to tail off in those regions by 2030, the report says. An average temperatures increase, cocoa trees, particularly those that don’t have the benefit of a “green canopy” protecting them, will have a hard time drawing enough water to encourage cocoa pod development.

Farmers ― in an effort to endure their survival ― may opt to plant more heat-resistant plants as a means of coping with these changes. In the end, there may be less cocoa available.

Interestingly, the implications about global warming as it pertains to crops, surfaced again just last week again. This time, however, the crop in jeopardy was coffee. Starbucks’ director of sustainability told the London-based Guardian newspaper that climate change is also threatening the world’s coffee supply.

Like cocoa, coffee prefers a narrow range of temperatures. Unfortunately, as many can attest today, continued global warming will elicit temperature extremes. Thus, scientists expect heavier rains, longer drought periods, and higher insect infestations (sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?) as a result.

Are we looking at a world where my future grandchildren won’t be able to afford chocolate or coffee, having become super luxury goods only the 1% can afford?

Again, predicting exactly what will happen with regards to climate change remains a speculative art. But we can’t ignore these cries of wolf. He’s definitely lurking out there.

However, it’s not all gloom and doom. Thanks to commitments by Mars, IBM and the USDA, the cocoa genome has been mapped out. It’s possible for researchers to breed cocoa trees at a faster pace, enabling them to select specific varieties that demonstrate a higher drought tolerance.

Programs also are underway that encourage farmers to plant fast-growing fruit trees, such as banana and papaya, as well as preserve high canopy trees to provide adequate amounts of shade for the heat-sensitive cocoa trees.

Nevertheless, the future of our industry depends on what we do today to ensure our grandchildren can enjoy and afford chocolate.

So next time you change the temperature on your thermostat, remember, farmers ― throughout the world ― don’t have that ability.

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