Climate Change – Foods That Could Disappear Because of it
Climate change is making the world a different place. There are more floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather events. Animal species around the world are either shifting habitat locations or simply dying off. Even humans are migrating due to a warmer world.
But there is one effect that will hit many of us right in the gut: Certain foods could disappear thanks to our changing climate. Brace yourself: Here are 10 foods you’ll probably be sad to see go.
Around 8 million pounds of guacamole are consumed during the Super Bowl, but football fans might soon have to find something else to dip their tortilla chips into. Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory predict as much as a 40 percent decrease in avocado production over the next 30 years due to increasing temperatures brought on by climate change.
As a result, the fast food chain Chipotle, which goes through 97,000 pounds of avocados a day—35 million pounds every year — has warned that if climate change worsens, it may be forced to stop serving guacamole. The company says it “may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas, rather than paying the increased cost for the ingredients.”
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,” the German theologian Martin Luther said, “I would still plant my apple tree.” He didn’t figure that there might be a tomorrow in which apple trees can’t properly grow. In 2011, an international team of scientists published a study which found just that: Temperate fruit and nut trees like the apple tree, which need a certain period of winter chill to produce economically practical yields, could be affected by global warming as winter temperatures rise. They said farmers should prepare for a warmer future by breeding cultivars with lower chilling requirements.
Such apples will likely taste different from the ones we have today, according to a Japanese study which found that rising temperatures are causing apple trees to bear fruit sooner, making them softer and sweeter. “If you could eat an average apple harvested 30 years before and an average apple harvested recently at the same time, you would really taste the difference,” said Toshihiko Sugiura of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Tsukuba, Japan, the study’s lead author.
It’s sad, but true. Beer is already a victim of a changing climate, with brewers increasingly finding it more difficult to secure stable water supplies. According to a 2010 report commissioned by the National Resources Defense Council, about a third of counties in the United States “will face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of global warming.” Between 2030 and 2050, the difficulty in accessing freshwater is “anticipated to be significant in the major agricultural and urban areas throughout the nation.”
Some specialty hops used by craft brewers have already become harder to source, since warming winters are producing earlier and smaller yields. “This is not a problem that’s going to happen someday,” said Jenn Orgolini of Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery. “If you drink beer now, the issue of climate change is impacting you right now.” She said that in 2011, the hops her brewery normally uses weren’t available due to Pacific Northwest weather conditions.
The late comedian/philosopher Bill Hicks once said, “The American dream is a crock. Stop wanting everything. Everyone should wear jeans and have three T-shirts, eat rice and beans.” He didn’t live long enough to find out that climate change could threaten the ability to follow his wise suggestion. It’s hard to overstate the importance of rice to world. It is a food staple for almost half of the world’s population. But climate change could significantly impact rice yields in this century.
According to a 2005 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “temperature increases, rising seas and changes in rainfall patterns and distribution expected as a result of global climate change could lead to substantial modifications in land and water resources for rice production as well as in the productivity of rice crops grown in different parts of the world.” A 2005 report by the United States Department of Agriculture found that the viability of rice-growing land in tropical areas could decline by more than 50 percent during the next century.
Beans feed the majority of the human population in Latin America and much of Africa and are a part of the daily diet of more than 400 million people across the developing world. But beans may also experience declines due to a warming world. According to a report the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), higher temperatures could reduce bean yields by as much as 25 percent. “Beans are highly sensitive to heat, and the varieties that farmers currently grow do not yield well under night temperatures over 18 or 19 degrees Centigrade,” writes Nathan Russell of CIAT. “Higher temperatures drastically reduce seed fertility, leading to lower grain yields and quality.” Thankfully, CIAT scientists have identified about 30 “elite” bean lines that have demonstrated tolerance to temperatures 4°C higher than the crop’s normal “comfort zone.”
One of the most dramatic effects of climate change is ocean acidification, a decrease in the pH, or the hydrogen ion concentration, of the Earth’s oceans, making the water more acidic. This is caused by the ocean absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—carbon we are spewing by burning fossil fuel and mowing down forests. This decrease in pH makes it harder for organisms like corals, crustaceans like lobsters, crabs and shrimp, and molluscs like clams, oysters, snails, mussels and scallops to form the calcium-based shells and exoskeletons they need to survive. Scientists at the Ocean Acidification Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks have warned that shellfish farmers off the Alaska coast may need to start modifying the sea water in their hatcheries as they expect “significant effects” from acidification by 2040.
Scientists also believe that pink salmon, the most abundant of the Pacific salmon species, will be one of the primary victims of climate change, since the fish cannot survive the increasingly acidic waters. In a recent study, scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and MacEwan University in Edmonton reared pink salmon in the lab under water acidity levels expected at the end of this century. They found that when the fish reached the age at which they would migrate to the sea, their ability to use oxygen in their muscles was significantly decreased. This means their future wild brethren will face difficulties locating food and evading predators.
Ocean acidification isn’t the only climate-related threat to fish. According to a study conducted by a team of Australian scientists, higher temperatures will increase the toxicity of common pesticides and industrial contaminants such as endosulfan, an insecticide, and phenol, an organic compound used to produce plastics and a variety of pharmaceuticals, which threatens the survival of a wide array of freshwater species such as trout, perch and carp.
“Everywhere in the world there are tensions—economic, political, religious,” said French chef Alain Ducasse in a 2013 interview with the Wall Street Journal. “So we need chocolate.” Who among us can disagree? An estimated one billion people around the world eat chocolate every day. The average American consumes 12 pounds of the sweet stuff every year. But the topography of Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Côte d’Ivoire, where more than half of the world’s chocolate is sourced in the form of the cocoa bean, will be so different by 2050 that production will be seriously impacted.
The current optimum altitude for cocoa production is 100 to 250 meters above sea level (MASL). But according to a worrisome 2011 CIAT study, that figure will increase to between 450 and 500 MASL by 2050. The report’s authors warn that farmers might begin to see declines in cocoa production by 2030. Beyond impacting our chocolate consumption is the effect that this will have on cocoa farmers, many of whom rely on cocoa for their livelihoods. “Many of these farmers use their cocoa trees like ATM machines,” said Dr. Peter Laderach, the report’s lead author. “They pick some pods and sell them to quickly raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life.”
Coffee is ubiquitous. Around 8.5 million metric tons of coffee are grown in 60 countries on nearly every continent. Half a trillion tons of java are consumed every year. But people around the globe may have to find another stimulating beverage to start their day. In recent years, a deadly plant fungus called coffee rust has swept across Central America, cutting coffee production and seriously impacting local economies. Experts believe that the spread of the disease has been driven by higher temperatures brought on by climate change.
Coffee plantations around the world are dealing with increased incidences of fungi and invasive species due to higher temperatures. Coffee bean farms on the Kona coast of the Big Island in Hawaii are being ravaged by an insect called the coffee berry borer, which scientists say is “expected to become an even greater threat” due to climate change. And in Africa, scientists predict that the number of coffee-growing regions will decrease between 65 to 100 percentas the surface temperature increases. Actor Jim Carrey once said, “I wake up some mornings and sit and have my coffee and look out at my beautiful garden, and I go, ‘Remember how good this is. Because you can lose it.’” He probably wasn’t referring to climate change, but he might as well have been.
8. Peanut Butter
Billy Joel once quipped, “A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is better than bad sex.” Indeed, there are few things as immediately satisfying as a good PB&J. If you grew up in the U.S., you probably ate your share as a kid. But this simple and classic sammy could become a museum piece with climate change on track to push a number of wild relatives of plants, including the peanut, to extinction, according to a 2007 study.
Andy Jarvis, an agricultural geographer who led the study, said that flora like the peanut are more threatened by global warming since they grow mainly in flat areas; farmers would need to migrate significant distances to find cooler climates and that is not always possible. He points out the importance of maintaining seed banks to guard against the effects of climate change. “There is an urgent need to collect and store the seeds of wild relatives in crop diversity collections before they disappear,” he said. His call to action could be summed up neatly: Save the PB&J!
If we don’t keep the increase of the global surface temperature to a maximum of 2°C (some say 1.5°C) to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, fermented grape juice from traditional winemaking regions could one day become a thing of the past. Grapevines are extremely sensitive to their surrounding environment: The variation in yield from season to season is more than 32 percent. And with temperatures steadily increasing, viniculture around the world is changing. Changes are already afoot in France, one of the largest wine producers in the world.
“Extreme weather is becoming more common in all of France’s wine-growing regions,” writes Ullrich Fichtner in Der Spiegel. “Heavy rains and hailstorms frequently come on the heels of summer heat waves and dry periods. Winters and nighttime temperatures are so mild that the plants are never able to rest. Few winegrowers continue to deny these tangible phenomena.” The famous wine appellation Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a striking example. As temperatures rise in the southern Rhône region, the harvest dates for this heavy wine have moved from October to early September. Philippe Guigal, one of the leading winemakers in the Rhône Valley, said that in the area where Châteauneuf-du-Pape grapes are grown, “the problems are getting really serious.”
But as climate change disrupts traditional winemaking regions worldwide, it will also create new ones, like Montana and China.
10. French Fries
Who doesn’t like french fries? Scratch that. Who doesn’t love french fries? But we may need to think about a different side to go with basically everything. In January, Vice News published a story with a very disturbing headline: “Climate Change Might Be the Greatest Threat to Potato Cultivation in 8,000 Years.” In Peru, home to thousands of potato species as well as the International Potato Center (CIP), based in Lima, potato farmers are being forced to move to higher altitudes due to rising surface temperatures. But even the Andes don’t rise forever. “I estimate that in 40 years there will be nowhere left to plant potatoes [in Peru’s highlands],” said Rene Gómez, curator of the CIP germplasm bank.
Of course, french fries aren’t the only thing the potato has given to the world. We could also lose such starchy staples as potato chips, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato salad, home fries and hash browns. Many cultures across the globe would lose popular potato-based regional dishes, such as aloo gobi (India), boxty (Ireland), cottage pie (United Kingdom), gamjajeon (South Korea), gnocchi (Italy), gratin (France), knishes (Eastern Europe), patatas bravas (Spain), kroppkaka (Sweden) and massaman curry (Thailand), to name a few. In terms of human consumption, the potato is the world’s third most important food crop after rice and wheat. More than a billion people worldwide eat potato, and global total potato production exceeds 300 million metric tons.
Food may be one of the most apparent and immediate ways many of us will feel the impact of climate change. “The general story is that agriculture is sensitive,” said David Lobell, deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University. “It’s not the end of the world, but it will be a big enough deal to be worth our concern.”
We certainly don’t need another reason to fight climate change. But a good one would be to save some of our favorite—and the world’s most important—foods from extinction.