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.

Environment Home Life

Inside Chores and Climate Marches

Overflowing and Neglected Inbox

Rain began mid-morning and is expected to continue until sunset.

Let it rain.

It’s an opportunity to work on inside chores before spring planting.

I’ll tackle a long-neglected inbox and use produce in the ice box and freezer to make soup. There’s plenty to do in the jumble the garage has become since winter — moving the lawn tractor toward the door, organizing the planting tools and cleaning shovels, rakes and bins for the season. I’m antsy about getting the garden planted — I accept it won’t be this weekend.

A few friends are participating in the People’s Climate March today. CNN and the Washington Post covered the District of Columbia march. There are several marches in Iowa and elsewhere. The key challenge for participants and other climate activists is determining what to do in a society where the importance of action to mitigate the causes of climate change garners slight interest.

“Surveys show that only about one in five adults in the United States is alarmed about climate change,” Jill Hopke wrote in The Conversation. “This means that if climate activists want this march to have a lasting impact, they need to think carefully about how to reach beyond their base.”

Collard Seedlings in the Rain

The unanswered question is how shall people outside the activist community be recruited to take climate action and by whom?

There are no good answers and no reason for climate activists to lead the effort. However, we can’t give up if we value society’s future.

The main issue is the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The good news is there are renewable sources of energy for transportation, manufacturing and electricity. How will society make climate change action ubiquitous with a majority of the world population?

Mass demonstrations can play a role in an effort to raise awareness about climate change. So can articles written by journalists, scientists, bloggers and organizations. At a minimum we can each strive to live with as light an environmental footprint as possible. We can explain to our friends, family and neighbors. Everyone has the potential to do something.

Today’s cool weather and gentle rain is a reminder.

“Staying out of the cold and warm inside? So are we,” Richard Fischer of Bernard wrote this afternoon via email. “Due to the weather we’re moving the event over to Convivium Urban Farmstead and Coffee shop, 2811 Jackson St., Dubuque.”

We must consider our lives in the built environment and let it rain. Have faith in today’s potential and adjust, knowing as long as rain comes and sustains our gardens and farms we too will be sustained.

There is much we can do when it rains. We can act on climate before it’s too late.