Buzz Kill: Climate Change Threatens Coffee-Pollinating Bees
By Marlene Cimons
The best coffee grows in the mountains, where it is cool. It needs low temperatures to thrive, which is why growers often put shade trees in their fields. But the mountains are getting hotter. And the higher you go, the less room there is to grow coffee. This is one reason scientists predict coffee will suffer in a changing climate.
New research suggests the fate of coffee may be worse than previously thought. Earlier projections underestimated the effects of climate change, specifically in Latin America, and failed to consider the consequences for coffee-pollinating bees, according to the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This is bad news, and not just for coffee lovers. It portends economic disaster for vulnerable farmers whose incomes depend on coffee. Most coffee growers in Latin America are small farmers whose food security relies on cash earned by selling coffee. In countries like Guatemala and Mexico, coffee is an important source of income for indigenous communities.
A coffee farmer picks fresh coffee cherries in Colombia.Neil Palmer / International Center for Tropical Agriculture
"Climate change threatens the primary livelihoods of millions of people in vulnerable communities around the world," said Taylor Ricketts, director of the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont, and coauthor of the study. "In all, probably 100 million people are involved in its production, most of them rural and poor. So there is more at stake here than the price of a nice espresso in New York or Paris."
The study, conducted with advanced computer modeling, spatial analysis and field data, predicts that climate change could reduce coffee-growing areas in Latin America—the world's largest coffee-producing region—by as much as 88 percent by 2050, with the largest declines in Nicaragua, Honduras and Venezuela.
The models also suggest that climate change will drive out multiple species of bees in some places. About 80 percent of growing areas "currently have at least ten [species of bee], and that drops almost in half in our future scenarios," Ricketts said. Though, he noted that just five species are "likely to be sufficient." This is the first study to examine the combined effects of both climate and pollination and how they will change under global warming "in ways that will hit coffee producers hard," Ricketts said.
Global warming could shrink coffee-growing areas in Latin America by as much as 88 percent by 2050.Neil Palmer / International Center for Tropical Agriculture
Coffee production depends on pollination, "so the question is whether we can still count on bees' contribution," said Pablo Imbach, an agronomist with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Hanoi, and the paper's lead author. "Productivity increases with the number of bee species." Moreover, bees can offset some of the harmful effects of climate change by boosting coffee productivity, scientists said.
"It's a David and Goliath situation," Imbach said. "There is the enormously powerful force of climate change that the world is trying to rein in, but bees—these comparatively tiny creatures—can, in some areas, actually play an important role in limiting the impact of climate change on coffee farms."
The findings were not all bad. The scientists projected a slight increase in coffee-growing suitability in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica, mainly in mountainous areas where the temperatures are expected to stay cool enough to support both coffee growth and hearty bee populations.
The study emphasized the importance of preserving tropical forests, which are habitats for bees and other pollinators. Many coffee-growing areas are located within a mile of tropical forests, researchers said.
The projected change in the number of bee species across Latin America by 2050. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
"Bees are vital to the integrity of coffee plots," Imbach said. "Without the services they provide, coffee yields will drop, and this will directly affect the incomes of the smallholder farmers. If there are bees in the coffee plots, they are very efficient and very good at pollinating, so productivity increases and also berry weight."
To improve coffee growth and bee pollination, the researchers recommended expanding bee habitats near coffee farms. Also, they urged that tropical forests be protected, and suggested more shade trees, weed strips and native plants that provide food and nesting for bees and other pollinators.
"Wild bees are a precious natural resource we should celebrate and protect," Ricketts said. "If managed with care, they can help us continue to produce billions of dollars in agricultural income and a diversity of nutritious food." Rickets stressed the importance of protecting pollinators from climate change. The consequences of not doing so could prove disastrous.
"Two-thirds of the most valuable commodities on earth rely on bees and other pollinators to produce well," Ricketts said. "That's easily worth tens of billions per year, every year. These crops also contribute essential nutrients to diets around the world. Ongoing declines in pollinators puts all this at risk. Pollinators are the essential and silent heroes of our global food system."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
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