The Looming Coffee Crisis

Finca Lerida Coffee Farm, Panama

Finca Lerida Coffee Farm, Panama

WC wants his fellow coffee junkies to understand just how serious this is: coffee, the single best reason for getting out of bed in the morning, is at grave risk from climate change.

Coffee, especially arabica coffee, is fussy about where it will grow and what climatic conditions it will tolerate. The other species, robusta, is a little more tolerant but, frankly, tastes like hog piss in comparison to arabica. There’s a narrow band of the right altitude, temperature and humidity where arabica will prosper. And climate change is going to reduce that narrow band by as much as 80%. In most of the current arabica growing regions, rising temperatures will push the crop upslope. Obviously, there’s less land as you go up a mountain, so that means less land available for the crop. And thinner soils. And highly variable weather conditions. All of which means less arabica.1

It’s not just climactic conditions that are going to have an impact. Coffee beans come from a fruit. Fruits come from flowers. Flowers have to be pollinated. Pollinators, mostly bees, will also be affected, although predictions for the impact of climate change on bugs are a little dicier. Perhaps not quite as grim.

But a recent study suggests overall coffee-suitable areas will be reduced 73–88% by 2050 across warming scenarios in Latin America, a decline 46–76% greater than estimated by earlier global assessments. Mean bee richness will decline 8–18% within future coffee-suitable areas, but all are predicted to contain at least 5 bee species, and 46–59% of future coffee-suitable areas will contain 10 or more species.

The bottom line: Coffee is going to get scarcer, which means it is going to get more expensive. Maybe a lot more expensive.

Of course, the impacts aren’t just on coffee addicts like WC. Coffee production supports the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers around the world. Those small coffee farms are going to begin to fail. Possibly quite soon. Sure, coffee might still be growable up slope, but that land is already owned by somebody else and being used by the owner for some other purpose. Coffee growing, especially shade grown coffee, is a relatively environmentally benign industry. Especially in comparison to disasters like palm oil plantations.

It’s not a happy prospect. And another reason to be dismayed by the Trump Administration’s attitude toward anthropogenic climate change.


  1. There are efforts to hybridize arabica and robusta, getting the hardiness of the latter and the flavor of the former. So far, it has been the reverse. 

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