LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Coffee to go extinct: a tale of climate change

Samuel Tegge

I want you to imagine a world without coffee.

For many of you, this is your worst nightmare, as you rely on the caffeine-packed, little bean for your daily well-being.

Now, I want to tell you that this “end of the world” scenario could become a reality. All thanks to climate change caused by global warming.

Although the majority of noticeable symptoms of climate change affect island nations or coastal regions –– you have and will continue to feel its effects. Yes, even here in Bowling Green.

Of course, I’m not talking about rising sea level or drastic changes in the daily temperatures. I’m talking about your daily cup of joe or frappuccino.

While many still debate whether climate change –– caused by global warming –– is true or if it is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, the coffee industry and all whom it supports are struggling to stay afloat.

No, they aren’t struggling with the rising sea levels many experience. Instead, they are fighting a losing battle with rising temperatures, increasing incidences of pests and diseases, drought and periods of rapid rainfall. All of these occurrences threaten the livelihoods of more than 125 million people in Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia, according to a 2015 study by The Climate Institute.

As global temperatures continue to rise, the effects are magnified along the equator. This has major repercussions for The Bean Belt –– the area between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn –– where a majority of coffee is capable of growing.

To grow coffee, a precise balance between temperature and precipitation is needed. An ill-timed, minute change of a half a degree and unreliable precipitation will severely affect the aroma, flavor and yield of the coffee bean. Therefore, with increasing global temperatures, the geographical distribution in which coffee can be grown is shrinking … and shrinking fast! According to a 2015 study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, climate change will reduce suitable farming land by 50 percent by the year 2050.

According to The Climate Institute, by the year 2100, with our current rate of temperature increase, mean global temperatures are expected to rise by 4.8 degrees Celsius. This is a death sentence for coffee, as it will likely go extinct.

Worse than your pumpkin spice latte missing the whip cream or not getting that extra shot of espresso … remember, the livelihoods of millions of people and the economic stability of countries within The Bean Belt are at stake, as they depend upon the success of the coffee industry.

Hopefully, at this point, you are wondering what you can do.

First and foremost, I want to emphasize that the fate of the coffee industry and the world are not yet set in stone. If we choose to act now, we can begin to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, do your own research. I would suggest visiting the NASA and United Nations webpages dedicated to climate change as I have provided only a brief summary of some of the issues facing a single population: coffee farmers. There is still more to the story. Unfortunately, the coffee farmers are one of many on the very long list of people, communities, countries, ecosystems and industries afflicted by climate change.

I implore you to research where you buy your coffee from. In your research, you will learn about carbon-neutral coffee companies and companies who guarantee fair return to small farmers. Give these companies your business. “Stick it to the man,” and put pressure on the coffee giants like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts in order to take this issue more seriously.

Lastly, I am not naïve enough to believe that we will all go out and buy electric cars. That is an impossible expectation. We are all broke college kids, right?

That being said, it is not naïve or inconceivable to increase our use of the free, public transportation system provided by the university, bicycling or even simply walking.

Additionally, we need to make our university and city more aware of the need for action. WKU is already making strides in sustainability efforts, spearheaded by the Center for Environmental Education and Sustainability. However, we can and should always strive to do more. Our university is well designed and capable of becoming a beacon for sustainability and renewable energy among public universities in Kentucky, nationally and abroad.