Los Angeles Times

Climate woes may show in your cup of joe

Rising coffee prices, and food costs in general, are partly due to global warming.

- DAVID LAZARUS David Lazarus’ column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and on Twitter @davidlaz. Send your tips to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

Climate change is such a massive problem, with such potentiall­y catastroph­ic ramificati­ons, many people have trouble getting their heads around the danger we face.

So let’s put things in simpler terms.

Climate change means you’ll be paying more for coffee, every day, for possibly the rest of your life.

And it may not taste as good.

“U.S. consumers should expect much more expensive and lower-quality coffee because of rising temperatur­es, extreme rainfalls, and higher frequency of severe droughts,” said Titus O. Awokuse, chairman of the department of agricultur­al, food and resource economics at Michigan State University.

“Recent studies show that up to 60% of highqualit­y coffee species are at risk of extinction because of the negative impacts of climate change,” he told me.

There. Got your attention now?

Climate change isn’t just an environmen­tal issue. It’s a consumer issue.

The cost of food is rising. That’s partly due to supply and labor issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it’s also a reflection of how our planet’s changing climate is affecting crops, livestock and other food sources.

“Prices reflect supply and demand, and if production costs rise or supply becomes more constraine­d, prices will rise,” said Carolyn Dimitri, an associate professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University.

“Climate change is likely to increase production costs and reduce supply, at least in some years,” she predicted, adding that she would be “horrified” if decent coffee became harder to come by.

“I will pay just about any price for my coffee,” Dimitri said, echoing my own thoughts and, I suspect, those of millions of other coffee drinkers.

Coffee futures recently jumped to the highest level in four years, due in part to extreme weather in Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer.

Factor in pandemic-related supply issues, and the cost of coffee beans has risen more than 40% so far this year.

Because caffeine heavyweigh­ts such as Starbucks and Nestle buy their coffee supplies well in advance, not all dealers of our daily fix will be raising prices immediatel­y.

But some are already warning of higher retail costs.

J.M. Smucker, maker of Folgers and Dunkin’ ground coffee, said it has no choice but to jack up prices. “We are seeing inflationa­ry costs impacting the entire fiscal year,” the company’s chief financial officer said during a recent conference call.

Coffee is just one item on supermarke­t shelves that’s getting more expensive because of climate change.

Harsh weather is driving up the cost of sugar. Wheat prices are now at the highest level in nearly eight years.

Corn, soybeans, avocados, almonds, honey, citrus — all are more expensive.

And this isn’t just in America. According to the United Nations, food prices worldwide were up by 33% in August from a year before.

“Climate change is a contributo­r because climate variabilit­y, extreme events and sustained droughts in certain regions can reduce yields and hence supplies,” said Sanford Eigenbrode, a professor of entomology at the University of Idaho.

This isn’t to say we’re doomed. Some experts believe global food production will adjust to a changing climate.

“Climate change will not affect agricultur­e the same way in all parts of the world,” said Ellen Bruno, an agricultur­al economist at UC Berkeley. “We have a lot of adaptive capacity.”

In other words, crops that start failing in some parts of the world may thrive in others.

Overall, however, climate change is reaching — or has already reached, by some estimates — a point of no return. And this all but guarantees higher food costs in the future.

A recent report from the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science, found that droughts that previously occurred perhaps once a decade are now 70% more frequent than in the preindustr­ial era.

Climate change obviously poses a greater threat than just pricier meals. It means hotter temperatur­es, heavier rainfall, more droughts, rising sea levels, flooding of coastal areas and other dystopian prospects.

Solutions for a problem of this scope aren’t easy. Nations around the world are being called upon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt more eco-friendly energy sources.

These measures are challengin­g and expensive, and require both unity and sacrifice — two things that aren’t always easy in a world guided mostly by self-interest and short-sightednes­s.

What you can do — what you should do — is support politician­s who recognize the danger and who are prepared to rise above selfish interests and show necessary leadership during a time of global crisis.

Also consider taking your business to companies that are willing to play a role in addressing climate change, although it’s not always clear how serious some corporatio­ns are in this regard.

Institutio­nal Shareholde­r Services has found that just over a third of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies have set ambitious climate change targets. The rest have modest goals or no climate change plans at all.

Some tech and retail heavyweigh­ts, including Microsoft and Walmart, have been among the most aggressive in laying out plans to become “carbon neutral” in coming years.

But others, especially those in the heavily polluting energy sector, have been cagier about their intentions or have resisted overhaulin­g operations for the sake of planetary survival.

As I said up top, this is tough stuff, requiring tough, sweeping solutions — the sort of behavior that human beings historical­ly have not shown themselves to be very good at.

So keep the focus tight. If nothing else, think about the food you eat. Think about your daily coffee habit. Hell, think about my daily coffee habit.

“People in the U.S. have enjoyed a long period where crop yields have increased and food prices have declined,” said Dane Scott, a professor of environmen­tal ethics at the University of Montana. “That period is likely over.”

He told me price hikes are now “inevitable.”

“Consumers should expect to pay more for food products to help finance the enormous undertakin­g of adapting agricultur­e to a changing climate,” Scott said. “The greater the disruption to the Earth’s climate system, the greater the social and economic costs of adaptation.”

And your grande, quad, nonfat, one-pump, no-whip mocha is no exception.

 ?? Myung J. Chun Los Angeles Times ?? COFFEE FUTURES recently jumped to the highest level in four years partly because of extreme weather in Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer.
Myung J. Chun Los Angeles Times COFFEE FUTURES recently jumped to the highest level in four years partly because of extreme weather in Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer.
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