The USA Today headline was enough to stop the hearts of stoners and law-abiding burrito lovers across the nation: “Holy Guacamole! Chipotle may stop selling it?” If you missed the article, the gist is that the price of avocados is going up, thanks in part to climate disruption, and the much-loved chain reported to investors that it may temporarily remove the green stuff from the menu in the future. The company was quick to assure customers they shouldn’t worry on social media, and the space-time continuum appeared to resume unabated, leaving the world once again safe for Xbox, discussions of how best to achieve world peace, and general chowing down.
File under “First-World Problems,” to be sure, but the story and the social-media storm it created do underscore a simple fact: no matter where you live, climate disruption is touching the food you eat. For people living in fragile economies, this is a real concern. Warming oceans off the coast of tropical nations mean fish populations are declining. Changing air temperatures are also changing where staple crops like maize and wheat can grow and are contributing to lower yields. And the increasing risk and severity of extreme weather globally mean farms and farmers everywhere are in greater and greater danger from devastating floods or droughts.
To get a sense of what this means for communities that depend on a single crop, just look at Kenya back in 2008, when a lack of rain coupled with high fuel prices meant the cost of corn shot up by 60 percent. The result was nearly 5 million people became food-insecure and the basic fabric of Kenyan society began to unravel and riots broke out. And thanks to climate disruption, we could be seeing a lot more of these kinds of events in the future.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a developed country, you might think that this kind of scenario could never happen to you, that the impact climate change has on food is someone else’s problem. But before we all get too comfortable, remember the Chipotle story. Then think back to the shining moments of your childhood. Think back to the last time you went out with friends. Think back to the last visit with your extended family, or at least the last visit you want to remember. Chances are some kind of food and drink was involved.
The point is, food isn’t just about how we sustain our flesh and blood bodies. It’s about the life we make and the life we share with other people. It’s what brings us together to laugh, cry, and pretty much everything in between. It’s part of the traditions we make with our families and friends and part of what makes our cultures distinct and rich.
To put it another way, climate disruption isn’t only changing what’s on our plates; it’s changing everything that happens around them. After all, can you imagine Italy without pasta or France without wine or the U.S. without hamburgers? If you’re a parent, can you imagine sharing a summer with your children without ice cream or movie night without popcorn?
And we don’t want to, either. That’s why when stories like the one about Chipotle and guacamole emerge, it’s important not to scoff if you’re not a Fresh Mex fan and miss the forest for the trees. Because as fish populations dwindle and crop yields decline, even in wealthy nations we’ll start seeing the foods we love and make us who we are get increasingly expensive or just plain disappear from everyday life. One by one, to be sure, but after a while, our lives will show the holes and our days become a little more monotone and a little less colorful. It’s not a picture we’d choose and it’s certainly not the future we want.
Below is a list of just some of the foods that scientists think could be impacted by climate disruption. If they feature in your everyday, imagine life with them out of reach or gone altogether. The good news is that we can still make sure this doesn’t happen by switching away from the fossil fuels driving climate disruption. If you haven’t already, support the EPA in limiting carbon pollution from new power plants. It takes just a minute and the next time you sit down for dinner or reach for the guacamole, you’ll be glad you did.
More and more people around the world are developing a taste for coffee. But climate disruption is projected to put real pressure on the regions that produce it, thanks to warming temperatures making some areas too hot to continue production and increasingly frequent extreme weather events that threaten small farmers in particular. Already, Brazilian coffee farmers are feeling the pinch of an extended drought, and we’re hoping it doesn’t become a trend.
Already apple trees in some parts of the world are blooming earlier, making them more vulnerable to cold snaps. Scientists are also predicting lower yields, softer fruits, and changing regions where trees can grow as the world warms.
Climate disruption is contributing to more frequent and extended droughts all around the world. We’re already seeing what this means for farmers in California that produce 20 percent of U.S. dairy products and the majority of U.S. fruits, nuts, and vegetables. It’s not just farms that feel the pinch in a drought either, as less access to water leads to more conflicts for all kinds of resources.
Corn, Wheat and Rice
Scientists project that warming temperatures mean yields of these staple crops will decline, which isbad news for food-insecure nations that depend on them. More troubling still is that some hotter areas like Sub-Saharan Africa may have trouble growing them at allas production shifts to cooler climates.
When it comes to wine, it’s all about location. Just ask the French growers in Bordeaux, the Italian producers in Chianti, or the Californian farmers in Sonoma. But as the climate changes, so will where farmers can grow their grapes and the distinctive qualities they take from their native soils. Already French producers are buying estates in southern England with an eye to the future. And that’s really got to hurt.
Heat stress from warmer temperatures can put a real strain on how much milk cows can produce. Add in greater threats of less water thanks to more frequent droughts and you’ve got some seriously unhappy cows producing less milk on your hands.
As oceans warm, fish are moving to cooler waters, which is bad news for long-standing fishing communities.
Scientists believe cocoa production in the West African nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast—responsible for more than half of the world’s crop—could decline as temperatures warm, meaning less treats for all of us. Worse, production may ultimately have to shift to cooler regions, threatening the livelihoods of the famers dependent on the crop.
Increased potential for drought has brewers in the Czech Republic concerned and already taking steps to increase the efficiency of their processes to save all the water they can for their fabled pilsners. We’ll raise a glass to that.