Grape Expectations: Love in the Time of Climate Change (Photo Credit: Trade Aid New Zealand, Climate Central, Cacao Magic Costa Rica)
With just two ingredients, these crowd-pleasers are quick, easy, and a delicious fair trade dessert, using fully traceable cacoa beans.
Roses, oysters, champagne, coffee, and chocolate are all the top of most Valentine’s shopping lists. But, most of us give these gifts away without a thought of what they might look like in the future. Several chocolate manufacturers, including Mars Chocolate Inc., are tackling climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and promoting more sustainable farming from drought and deforestation. An increase in extreme weather events in the future could cause havoc for those who like to enjoy a chocolate treat every now and then.
Wine and dine? For now, rising temperatures have produced higher quality wines, but if temperatures continue to rise, this may force wine-growing regions out of their peak production climates, spoiling grape harvests. Longer summers may affect pruning timelines for florists and affecting pollination rates. Fancy a candlelight Valentine’s dinner? Increased dissolved carbon dioxide in oceans, a process known as ocean acidification, may affect shellfish industries if reductions in oyster hotspots are observed and turning the ocean into an acidic soup that eats away the shells of the molluscs. What about the morning after? Arabic coffee producers are already seeing genetic diversity of the bean becoming more limited and turning the bean bitter.
And for dessert? Similarly, the climatic sustainability for the cacao tree is changing. Cacao grows best in places where it would melt in your hand, less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit and humid. Beans from the cacao tree are the raw material used for chocolate, currently spanning about 20 degrees north and south of the equator. While cacao trees can endure high temperatures, 3.8°F (2.1°C) increase in temperature by 2050 may change regions where cacao is grown. In addition, rising temperatures could change rainfall amounts, making regions that are dry more susceptible to drought conditions, especially for West Africa’s cacao trees. A changing climate may also put regions where dairy, sugar, and almonds are grown at greater risk.
(Right): Suitability for cacao cultivation at present and projected for 2050 ; (Left): No monkeys, no chocolate. Capuchin monkey eating a cacao bean. They eat the pulp and leave the rest of the bean to ferment in the pod for a few days, changing the flavor of the bean. Good chocolate means homes for monkeys and replenishment of seeds (Cacao Magic Costa Rica).
So, what can chocolate-lovers do to support the survival of the beloved chocolate bars? It would be wise to conduct research first to see where the cacao comes from and if the company supports sustainable farming practices, says cacao genetic resources expert Brigitte Laliberté of Bioversity International. One adaptation strategy could be providing cacao growers with selectively bred seeds that have superior drought resistance. A Brazilian practice known as cabruca involves retaining other trees that may provide the cacao trees with shade, decreasing both temperature and evapotranspiration. So this Valentine’s Day, be sure to splurge a little on your favorite items, as they may not taste or cost the same in the near future.
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© 2020 Meteorologist Sharon Sullivan