By Sarah McColl
Think of the environmental impacts of coffee and your mind likely goes to mountains of coffee cherries polluting waterways, piles of leftover grounds, nonrecyclable coffee pods or the paper waste from gazillions of grande to-go cups. Initially, you're probably not considering milk at all.
“You and me both," Robert Myers, cofounder of San Francisco's Paramo Coffee, said, whose focus, understandably, had been on the coffee aspects of his coffee business, from farming practices to roasting. But when your business partner is also involved in The Perennial, a restaurant out to fight climate change—as Paramo's Wes Wang is—you start getting articles sent to you. An article about the carbon footprint of heating water for coffee, articles about the emissions related to the aforementioned milk. “I was like, 'Oh great, now milk is a huge part of the problem,'" Myers said.
The milk math Paramo Coffee did was incriminating. Milk represents 60 to 70 percent of the carbon footprint of a cup of coffee with a few tablespoons of milk; for a latte, it's more like 80 or 90 percent. Per cup, black coffee produces 21 grams of CO2; each latte, 340 grams. “When you figure a coffee shop makes 300, 500, 700 drinks a day, this becomes significant," Myers told SFGate.
But rather than imagine a joyless life without lattes, Myers started to learn more about potential offset solutions, such as carbon farming. In this practice, land is covered in a layer of compost, then planted with perennial grasses. Compost seeds the soil with good microorganisms and carbon is captured and stored in the soil via the deep root system of perennial grasses.
“It's not just give up coffee, give up milk," he said. “Suddenly it seemed like, oh, there might be something we can do."
That something has taken the form of a new Paramo location next to The Perennial with a more energy-efficient roaster and a partnership with Marin County's Straus Family Creamery—which, among the nine dairy farms it works with, sources from one that has converted some of its grazing land to carbon farming. Since Paramo can't source milk solely from cows grazing on land that has been converted to carbon farming, it donates 5 cents from every drink to Marin Carbon Project to offset the cost of converting additional dairy rangeland.
Scientists think inexpensive, low-technology practices like carbon farming can turn back the carbon clock. The world's cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, but carbon farming can reduce atmospheric CO2 while also increasing the health and productivity of the soil. Research from the University of California at Berkeley found that if compost were applied to 5 percent of the state's grazing land, it could store a year's worth of emissions from conventional farms and forestry operations. Boost that number to 25 percent of grazing land and the soil would absorb 75 percent of California's total annual emissions.
“That's a huge impact," Myers said. “It feels like we could really change things in a big way and within the context of something I'm already doing, which is selling coffee with milk. It's not an additional thing I have to do—it's just being more mindful and being a steward of my piece of it."
“If we can say, 'I can sell this milk, there's a lot of demand for it' and if we just keep asking for it, I'm hoping that will get more farmers to say, 'Well, maybe we should try this,'" he added
In a story about The Perennial, Chris Ying, cofounder of both the restaurant and ZeroFoodprint, told TakePart, “Eating, it turns out, is the most significant interaction most of us have with the environment." But the coffeeshop relationship is a unique one. For many coffee drinkers, the morning ministrations of our local barista may be meaningful enough to encourage us to consider the environmental impacts of the ritual.
“You enter into a type of intimacy that's very genuine," Myers said. “I think that's an opportunity to get into people's heart space—gradually, in small ways. But that's where I think the battle of environmental issues wins, when you can get into that space."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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