Environment Writing

Morning Coffee, Climate Change and the 2018 Midterms

U.S. Army Mermite Can

I first drank coffee in the Army… on top of a hill… during the dead of winter… from a mermite can.

Steam rising from the lid proved irresistible when ambient temperatures were below zero and we had just slept on the ground. What else were we going to do but drink coffee? It was there.

We each have a personal history of drinking coffee. I asked one of the greenhouse seeding crews if they remembered their first cup. Some had specific memories, others did not. For me, it was the windy hill in Germany back in 1976.

Coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th Century and spread throughout the temperate zones of the planet. It is currently being grown in more than 60 countries. Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia and Ethiopia are the largest coffee producers by annual export weight. Coffee has become ubiquitous as any foodstuff can be.

Making Coffee

The sources of our coffee are under pressure because of climate change. Yields are declining in part because a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, creating unseasonable and extreme weather events. Likewise, warmer temperatures expanded the range of the coffee berry borer. Coffee rust is a detrimental fungus increasing its range as the planet warms and winters no longer kill it off in mountainous regions where coffee grows. The impact of global warming caused climate change is not trivial.

We would like to drink a cup of Joe without worry. When we go to the warehouse club there is a long, abundant aisle of coffee produced all over the world. A cup of coffee continues to be affordable at restaurants. It hardly seems like a problem. It isn’t… at least not now.

The science of global warming is virtually undisputed. What seems less certain is how it will impact our personal lives going forward. The Earth’s ecosystem is complex and specific regions have had different issues. We’ve had our share of droughts in Iowa, but there has also been enough rainfall to produce crops. Some days it seems the only persistent idea about Iowa’s climate is that rain remains. When it comes to coffee, what happens six inches in front of our noses is not as important as the global environment in which humans live.

There’s the rub.

With the 2016 election of a Republican to the White House, all eyes are diverted from our most pressing problems. Challenges to the study of climate change is one of those pressing problems and not only because I may be deprived of my daily cup of coffee.

The administration walked away from policy decisions we’ve made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is cutting funding for climate research. It is censoring and targeting government scientists. One could reasonably say the government under Republicans has abandoned science as a consideration in policy-making.

As Americans, we know what to do. We must repudiate the direction Republicans are taking our society by voting them out in the 2018 and 2020 elections. I’d rather linger over my morning coffee than get involved in politics again. However, personal political engagement is the price of a livable future.