What caused Kelly Slater to so radically change his views about sharks?
Or perhaps he did not change his views after all.
In 2014, Kelly was quoted in the Australian media saying in response to Premier Colin Barnett's plan to kill sharks in Western Australia:
"I think it's kind of silly. Humans want to control everything. We try to control (beach) erosion, we try to control sharks … we just try to control everything on this earth and it's just crazy. We kill 100 million sharks a year or something crazy to make (shark fin) soup. We throw them back finless and dying. It's like we've lost all feeling for other creatures on some level and I think that's kind of sad. If I got eaten by a shark, I'd be honoured."
So when I heard that Kelly had sent an Instagram message to the notorious shark-killing advocate Jeremy Flores on Reunion Island, my first reaction was disbelief. It had to be fake news. The message was in contradiction of everything that Kelly had ever said about sharks.
In his message to Flores on social media, Kelly said:
And of course Flores took that message as ammunition to go on the offensive against conservationists including Sea Shepherd and myself personally.
I don't think that Kelly anticipated the tsunami of a response from both sides of this issue. The shark kill advocates were elated and quickly took to social media to thump their chest for bringing Kelly over to the what marine conservationist see as the "dark side." Many shark advocates reacted with anger and accusations. The nature of the internet is immediately unforgiving by millions of people who tend to react with instantaneous condemnation without verification of the facts.
I don't think that Kelly anticipated that his words would ignite violence on Reunion or that the next day would see a fire bomb attack on the offices of the marine reserve because one of the goals of some of the shark haters on the island is to shut down the marine reserve and to reopen fishing including shark hunting.
I don't think that Kelly anticipated the death threats against Jean Bernard Galves, the representative of Sea Shepherd on Reunion Island, and the collective NGO's advocating the end of the cull and the protection of the marine reserve.
Nor could he have anticipated the extreme hate directed at any person who defends sharks as this posting by surfer Christophe Fontaine to the Association de Sauvegarde des requins, illustrates:
"All my friends died in a shark attack. You won. Now we are going to burn everything to the ground to avoid more young to die because of your bullshit. The Marine Reserve already got hit and if they have not understood it's their children who we will burn. The prefect's children too. They want to kill us. Then we will kill.
"Dude, I don't know if you understood the message. People like you allowed my friends to die eaten. Whether you get it or not, we don't give fuck. You come here, we'll kill you. We'll kill your children, your family and we'll piss on your grave and the one of your dear ones. Cause that is what you have been doing to us since the beginning.
"Also send the message to the 2 little Zoreil (people from France) walking around with Sea Shepherd t-shirts in Boucan, provoking us that we will feed them to sharks. Let them all sue us. We went to Court, it did not protect us from death. It won't protect you either. It's your turn."
I don't think that Kelly anticipated the wave of anger and feelings of betrayal his words would spawn and the ire of so many of his admirers and fans directed towards him on social media.
Inadvertently, Kelly handed them the confidence to unleash their hateful accusations and to fuel their violent rhetoric.
At first, I was disappointed, but not angry with Kelly. He is a dedicated ocean conservationist and he has spoken out against shark culling for years so it was a shock for me to hear that he actually said what he reportedly said.
Kelly is a compassionate man and he was reacting to the death of a young surfer and I believe that was his initial gut reaction to the tragedy. I don't believe that this statement negates the incredible efforts Kelly made over the years to raise awareness of what we as a species are doing to destroy biodiversity in the sea.
I did reach out to him and he responded that he was indeed sympathetic to the surfers who have died there, that the incidents of shark attacks are greater there than any other place on the planet and that although he opposes culling of sharks in general he believes that Reunion is a unique situation because of the number of shark attacks.
His response to me gave me some insight as to where he is was coming from. The pain of losing friends and family, the suffering from shark inflicted wounds are things that provoke anger and a desire for revenge or as in Kelly's case, a desire to find some solution.
There is no doubt that this is a highly emotional issue—the death of so many surfers in a relatively short time in one particular place. I think Kelly reacted intuitively to these tragedies and because he felt that the situation at Reunion was unique and unusual.
It is indeed clear to me that Kelly did not anticipate the backlash. He sent me this message yesterday:
"I would like to address my comment about the recent bull shark attack in Reunion Island. I did not think my words through. It is easy to get emotional given the recent history with sharks that the local community has suffered, especially when young lives are lost. However, killing anything in hopes of a solution is not in line with my philosophies about life and I don't believe are a long term fix to an ongoing problem. This is a good time to put energy and intelligence into finding a solution that works for everyone ... utilizing technology, science and human emotion. I know a solution can be found that works for all parties. I'll continue to learn about and put energy towards efforts to defend and protect our oceans.
Sincerely, Kelly Slater"
Sea Shepherd wants to work with Kelly and with anyone on Reunion who wants to find a real solution to these attacks. Kelly wants to work with us, with the surfers and with the scientists to find a solution.
I believe that the surfers on the island, if they truly wish to find a solution must understand that culling does not work, it has never worked and the remedy must be a restoration of the marine ecology, the encouragement of the return of reef sharks, the increase in marine biodiversity and until these solutions can be found these beaches must be closed until restoration is completed. The defense against bull sharks is a healthy population of reef sharks and a rich diversity of fish populations in a well enforced marine reserve.
So I do not see the point of condemning Kelly for expressing his sincere feelings with regard to the human fatalities. He is human, he is extremely close to the surfing community and what he said, he said from the point of view of a man and a surfer who cares about the lives of people who share his passion for the waves.
And we should make no mistake in believing for one moment that this man does not care about the ocean, about biodiversity and about the atrocities committed. I know Kelly, he cares, he cares deeply.
I am looking at the positive side of this controversy. Perhaps what Kelly said was not okay on the surface but it brought to light the reality that this is a very misunderstood situation and the only solution must be an objective scientific review with real ecologically based solutions. A cull is not one of these solutions.
The situation at Reunion has been caused by humans. Pollution, overfishing, negligence and a refusal to use plain old common sense backed up by some serious understanding of ocean ecology. And as Kelly has often said in the past, culling simply does not work.
U.S. surfer Mike Coots, who lost a leg in a shark attack agrees that culling is not the answer. "I think culling a species is fundamentally wrong: Science has shown that it doesn't work," he said. "It actually can make the situation worse. I think we need to focus more on coexistence between humans and sharks."
During the latter half of the twentieth century, shark culling was carried out in an attempt to make the waters of Hawaii safer. From 1959 to 1976, the state of Hawaii culled 4,668 sharks. The Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology and the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources concluded that culling was "ineffective" because the incidence of shark attack numbers remained the same.
The Reunion islanders have overfished the area and the reef sharks that once held that territory were wiped out, not by bull sharks as Jeremy Flores falsely claims but by fishermen. With the reef sharks removed, the bull sharks moved in.
And herein lies the problem. Not only does shark culling not work, it actually contributes to the environment where bull sharks are more aggressive and thus more dangerous.
More than 200 sharks have been killed already around the island and this onslaught of vengeance not only took out bull sharks but many tiger sharks as well and tiger sharks have not killed any surfers. How many more do they wish to kill? Are they talking 100 percent eradication? Because complete eradication is the only way to guarantee safety for surfers.
Is extinction of the bull shark the price the surfers demand in return for enjoying their sport?
This is what happens. A shark kills a human. In revenge numerous sharks are slaughtered and instead of solving their problem their actions have intensified it.
Why is it that the highest incidence of shark attacks in the world happen where shark culling is practiced? Specifically Reunion, Queensland and Western Australia.
And the reason for this is that the removal of sharks from their established territory creates a vacuum and thus an invite for replacement sharks and these replacement sharks are seeking to establish the vacant territory as their own and this makes them far more aggressive than the sharks they replaced. Culling creates a black hole and it will draw in replacement bull sharks from Madagascar resulting in more aggressive shark attacks and more mass killings of sharks. It's a vicious circle of shark culling and attacks on humans.
Kill them and the door opens for new replacements and the only logical outcome of such a radical scheme is complete and utter eradication and that is something that Kelly Slater absolutely does not endorse.
Stirred up by Jeremy Flores and his cohorts, the Journal de l'Ile de La Reunion has called Sea Shepherd and all the scientists and NGO's opposing a cull as "NAZI's animal rights fanatics" and claim that we are responsible for the deaths of the surfers because we oppose a shark massacre. From our point of view the cause of these frequent attacks is the culling itself and thus Flores and the government of France are very much complicit in the circumstances that have seen 20 attacks since 2011 of which eight attacks were fatal.
What Sea Shepherd has been advocating is a strong marine reserve that will allow the reef sharks to return so that the ecological balance can be restored. Towards this end, the beaches where shark attacks occur should be closed to the public.
Kelly has assured me that he supports this approach.
Let's take a closer look at the victims.
The last attack took place at the exit of a river on the east coast after heavy rains. The river carried a great deal of waste into the muddy water. The rains had modified the bottoms of the mouth of the river, creating a "perfect" wave. Tempting indeed, but the fishermen of the area had repeatedly warned the surfers of the enormous shark risk, well known to be aggravated by the rains. Swimming was forbidden and signs were posted, although many of the signs had been vandalized. The man who died was a former shark lookout and fully aware of the risks. Nonetheless, he chose to take the risk.
A statement from his family said:
"Our family does not want the death of Alex to be used to justify this or that act. Nor do we wish that one accuses wild animals for the death of Alex. Alex was a great enthusiast and was fully aware of the risks he was taking."
The incident in April 2015 involved a 13-year old boy. The day before a shark look-out system had been set up, but on that day the look-outs were not deployed due to poor visibility and poor sea conditions. The training session was canceled. Despite the ban on surfing, the boy and some of his comrades decided to surf. They were perhaps confident because of the installation a few hundred meters away of a drum line 12 days before. This shark line had been installed against the advice of scientists. They warned of the risk of baiting near beaches.
Currently 15 scientists from the Marine Reserve Science Council—despite enormous state pressure and the constant threats and insults—unanimously said that it was dangerous to bait near surfers and drum lines should not be installed in the reserve and near the beaches.
This entire situation has been created by human activity due to overfishing, elimination of reef sharks, pollution, and the dumping of sewage, fish guts and animal offal. Regular heavy rains have compounded the problem and it has already been proven that culling does not work, but instead contributes to more occurrences.
Flores and his group of shark killing advocates are trying to cast the scientists and conservationist like myself and Sea Shepherd as people-haters, willing to sacrifice young people to save the sharks.
In reality, we are trying to stop the shark attacks by working to restore the ecological integrity of the area with the Reunion Island Natural Marine Reserve. Yes, we want to save the sharks but in doing so we see this effort as saving human lives as well. It is not a question of either sharks or humans, for us it is a question of protecting both the lives of humans and sharks.
What Flores is advocating is simply not okay.
I was a surfer in California and Hawaii in my younger days in the '60s and '70s and I have always viewed surfing as a near religious experience which is one of the reasons that I hold Kelly Slater in such high regard. All surfers should be ambassadors for life in the sea and in fact Kelly has and continues to be an incredible advocate, educator and role model for young people around the globe.
As a surfer I was always aware of the risks, from being dashed onto a coral reef to almost breaking my neck at Makapuu Beach, but I always viewed the risk of a shark attack as the least of my worries. This is not to say there is no risk, but that it was an acceptable risk because on average about five people die annually from a shark attack and considering the tens of millions of people who enter the ocean every day, that is an extremely small percentage.
In fact, it is more dangerous to play golf because more golfers die every year than surfers from everything from bee stings to being struck by lightening.
As Kelly Slater once said himself, "If you're afraid of sharks, stay out of the ocean."
That is a sentiment he still holds today. Nothing has changed.
Google's New Timelapse Shows 37 Years of Climate Change Anywhere on Earth, Including Your Neighborhood
Google Earth's latest feature allows you to watch the climate change in four dimensions.
The new feature, called Timelapse, is the biggest update to Google Earth since 2017. It is also, as far as its developers know, the largest video taken of Earth on Earth. The feature compiles 24 million satellite photos taken between 1984 and 2020 to show how human activity has transformed the planet over the past 37 years.
"Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone," Google Earth Director Rebecca Moore wrote in a blog post Thursday.
Moore herself has been directly impacted by the climate crisis. She was one of many Californians evacuated because of wildfires last year. However, the new feature allows people to witness more remote changes, such as the melting of ice caps.
"With Timelapse in Google Earth, we have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips — one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerizingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades," she wrote.
Some climate impacts that viewers can witness include the melting of 12 miles of Alaska's Columbia Glacier between 1984 and 2020, Fortune reported. They can also watch the disintegration of the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. The changes are not limited to the impacts of global warming, however.
Moore said the developers had identified five themes, and Google Earth offers a guided tour for each of them. They are:
- Forest change, such as deforestation in Bolivia for soybean farming
- Urban growth, such as the quintupling of Las Vegas sprawl
- Warming temperatures, such as melting glaciers and ice sheets
- Sources of energy, such as the impacts of coal mining on Wyoming's landscape
- Fragile beauty, such as the flow of Bolivia's Mamoré River
However, the feature also allows you to see smaller-scale change. You can enter any location into the search bar, including your local neighborhood, CNN explained. The feature does not offer the detail of Street View, Gizmodo noted. It is intended to show large changes over time, rather than smaller details like the construction of a road or home.
The images for Timelapse were made possible through collaboration with NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey's Landsat satellites and the European Union's Copernicus program and Sentinel satellites. Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab helped develop the technology.
To use Timelapse, you can either visit g.co/Timelapse directly or click on the Ship's Wheel icon in Google Earth, then select Timelapse. Moore said the feature would be updated annually with new images of Earth's alterations.
"We hope that this perspective of the planet will ground debates, encourage discovery and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues," she wrote.
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By Asher Rosinger
Imagine seeing a news report about lead contamination in drinking water in a community that looks like yours. It might make you think twice about whether to drink your tap water or serve it to your kids – especially if you also have experienced tap water problems in the past.
In a new study, my colleagues Anisha Patel, Francesca Weaks and I estimate that approximately 61.4 million people in the U.S. did not drink their tap water as of 2017-2018. Our research, which was released in preprint format on April 8, 2021, and has not yet been peer reviewed, found that this number has grown sharply in the past several years.
Other research has shown that about 2 million Americans don't have access to clean water. Taking that into account, our findings suggest that about 59 million people have tap water access from either their municipality or private wells or cisterns, but don't drink it. While some may have contaminated water, others may be avoiding water that's actually safe.
Water insecurity is an underrecognized but growing problem in the U.S. Tap water distrust is part of the problem. And it's critical to understand what drives it, because people who don't trust their tap water shift to more expensive and often less healthy options, like bottled water or sugary drinks.
I'm a human biologist and have studied water and health for the past decade in places as diverse as Lowland Bolivia and northern Kenya. Now I run the Water, Health, and Nutrition Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. To understand water issues, I talk to people and use large datasets to see whether a problem is unique or widespread, and stable or growing.
An Epidemic of Distrust
According to our research, there's a growing epidemic of tap water distrust and disuse in the U.S. In a 2020 study, anthropologist Sera Young and I found that tap water avoidance was declining before the Flint water crisis that began in 2014. In 2015-2016, however, it started to increase again for children.
Our new study found that in 2017-2018, the number of Americans who didn't drink tap water increased at an alarmingly high rate, particularly for Black and Hispanic adults and children. Since 2013-2014 – just before the Flint water crisis began – the prevalence of adults who do not drink their tap water has increased by 40%. Among children, not consuming tap has risen by 63%.
To calculate this change, we used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey that releases data in two-year cycles. Sampling weights that use demographic characteristics ensure that the people being sampled are representative of the broader U.S. population.
Racial Disparities in Tap Water Consumption
Communities of color have long experienced environmental injustice across the U.S. Black, Hispanic and Native American residents are more likely to live in environmentally disadvantaged neighborhoods, with exposure to water that violates quality standards.
Our findings reflect these experiences. We calculated that Black and Hispanic children and adults are two to three times more likely to report not drinking their tap water than members of white households. In 2017-2018, roughly 3 out of 10 Black adults and children and nearly 4 of 10 Hispanic adults and children didn't drink their tap water. Approximately 2 of 10 Asian Americans didn't drink from their tap, while only 1 of 10 white Americans didn't drink their tap water.
When children don't drink any water on a given day, research shows that they consume twice as many calories from sugary drinks as children who drink water. Higher sugary drink consumption increases risk of cavities, obesity and cardiometabolic diseases. Drinking tap water provides fluoride, which lowers the risk of cavities. Relying on water alternatives is also much more expensive than drinking tap water.
A4: Choosing to drink fluoridated tap water over sugar-sweetened beverages to quench thirst is vital to protecting… https://t.co/3tm8wuWjeZ— Oral Health Watch (@Oral Health Watch)1600795750.0
What Erodes Trust
News reports – particularly high-visibility events like advisories to boil water – lead people to distrust their tap water even after the problem is fixed. For example, a 2019 study showed that water quality violations across the U.S. between 2006 and 2015 led to increases in bottled water purchases in affected counties as a way to avoid tap water, and purchase rates remained elevated after the violation.
The Flint water crisis drew national attention to water insecurity, even though state and federal regulators were slow to respond to residents' complaints there. Soon afterward, lead contamination was found in the water supply of Newark, New Jersey; the city is currently replacing all lead service lines under a legal settlement. Elsewhere, media outlets and advocacy groups have reported finding tap water samples contaminated with industrial chemicals, lead, arsenic and other contaminants.
Many other factors can cause people to distrust their water supply, including smell, taste and appearance, as well as lower income levels. Location is also an issue: Older U.S. cities with aging infrastructure are more prone to water shutoffs and water quality problems.
It's important not to blame people for distrusting what comes out of their tap, because those fears are rooted in history. In my view, addressing water insecurity requires a two-part strategy: ensuring that everyone has access to clean water, and increasing trust so people who have safe water will use it.
As part of his proposed infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden is asking Congress for $111 billion to improve water delivery systems, replace lead pipelines and tackle other contaminants. The plan also proposes improvements for small water systems and underserved communities.
These are critical steps to rebuild trust. Yet, in my view, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should also provide better public education about water quality testing and targeted interventions for vulnerable populations, such as children and underserved communities. Initiatives to simplify and improve water quality reports can help people understand what's in their water and what they can do if they think something is wrong with it.
Who delivers those messages is important. In areas like Flint, where former government officials have been indicted on charges including negligence and perjury in connection with the water crisis, the government's word alone won't rebuild trust. Instead, community members can fill this critical role.
Another priority is the 13%-15% of Americans who rely on private well water, which is not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These households are responsible for their own water quality testing. Public funding would help them test it regularly and address any problems.
Public distrust of tap water in the U.S. reflects decades of policies that have reduced access to reliable, safe drinking water in communities of color. Fixing water lines is important, but so is giving people confidence to turn on the tap.
Asher Rosinger is an assistant professor of biobehavioral health, anthropology, and demography and director of the Water, Health, and Nutrition Laboratory at Penn State University.
Disclosure statement: Asher Rosinger receives funding from the National Science Foundation on an unrelated project. This work was supported by the Ann Atherton Hertzler Early Career Professorship funds, and the Penn State Population Research Institute (NICHD P2CHD041025). The funders had no role in the research or interpretation of results.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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A new report promoting urgent climate action in Australia has stirred debate for claiming that global temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade.
Australia's Climate Council released the report on Thursday. The council is an independent organization of climate scientists and experts on health, renewable energy and policy who work to inform the Australian public on the climate crisis. But their latest claim is causing controversy.
"Multiple lines of evidence show that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above the preindustrial level, without significant overshoot and subsequent drawdown, is now out of reach due to past inaction," Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Prof. Christopher Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment wrote in the foreword. "The science is telling us that global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 2030s, and that long-term stabilization at warming at or below 1.5°C will be extremely challenging."
The report is titled "Aim high, go fast: Why emissions need to plummet this decade," and as the name suggests, it is ultimately concerned with urging more robust climate action on the part of the Australian government. The report calls for the country to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2035 in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris agreement, which means limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius.
"The world achieving net zero by 2050 is at least a decade too late and carries a strong risk of irreversible global climate disruption at levels inconsistent with maintaining well-functioning human societies," the authors wrote.
The report further argues that global temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2030s based on existing temperature increases; locked-in warming from emissions that have already occurred; evidence from past climate changes and the percentage of the carbon budget that has already been used.
The report isn't a call to give up on the Paris agreement. It is possible that global temperatures could swell past 1.5 degrees Celsius but still be reduced by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if temperatures do exceed 1.5 degrees, every degree of warming that can be prevented makes a difference.
"Basically we can still hold temperature rise to well below 2C and do that without overshoot and drawdown," Will Steffen, lead report author from the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, told Australia's ABC News. "Every tenth of a degree actually does matter — 1.8C is better than 1.9C, and is much better than 2C."
However, some outside scientists question both the accuracy and effectiveness of the report's claim. Both Adjunct Professor Bill Hare from Murdoch University and Dr. Carl-Freidrich Schleussner from Humboldt University told ABC News they have been trying to contact the Climate Council about its 1.5 overshoot claim for months. They said that it went against other major reports, including the UN Environment Program Gap Report and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5˚C.
"The big challenge their report reinforces is the need for urgent action to get on that 1.5C pathway, [so] it's very paradoxical to me that they've chosen to attack that target," Dr. Hare told ABC News.
However, Scientist Andy Pitman from the Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales told The Guardian that the report's assessment was correct.
"It's simply not possible to limit warming to 1.5C now," he said. "There's too much inertia in the system and even if you stopped greenhouse gas emissions today, you would still reach 1.5C [of heating]."
However, one aspect everyone agreed on involved the importance of lowering emissions as soon as possible.
"[There is] absolute fundamental agreement on the task at hand, which is to get emissions to plummet," Simon Bradshaw, report author and Climate Council head of research, told The Guardian.
French winemakers are facing devastating grape loss from the worst frost in decades, preceded by unusually warm temperatures, highlighting the dangers to the sector posed by climate change.
"An important share of the harvest has been lost. It's too early to give a percentage estimate, but in any case it's a tragedy for the winegrowers who have been hit," said Christophe Chateau, director of communications at the Bordeaux Wine Council, told CNN.
Climate change, caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, has pushed winegrowing seasons earlier, putting crops at higher risk of cold — and wildfires supercharged by climate change also threaten American vignerons and farmworkers as well.
"I think it's good for people to understand that this is nature, climate change is real, and to be conscious of the effort that goes into making wine and the heartbreak that is the loss of a crop," Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy's Côte de Nuits told Wine Enthusiast.
As reported by Wine Enthusiast:
Last week, images of candlelit French vineyards flooded social media. Across the country, winemakers installed bougies, or large wax-filled metal pots, among the vines to prevent cold air from settling in during an especially late frost.
With temperatures in early April as low as 22°F, and following an unseasonably warm March, this year's frost damage may be the worst in history for French winegrowers. Every corner of France reports considerable losses, from Champagne to Provence, and Côtes de Gascogne to Alsace. As a result, there will likely be very little French wine from the 2021 vintage reaching U.S. shores.
For a deeper dive:
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Climate change could make it harder to find a good cup of coffee, new research finds. A changing climate might shrink suitable areas for specialty coffee production without adaptation, making coffee taste blander and impacting the livelihoods of small farms in the Global South.
Published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday, the study focused on regions in Ethiopia, Africa's largest coffee-producing nation. Although studies have previously documented the impact of climate change on coffee production, what's less understood is how varying climates could change the flavors of specialty coffee, the researchers wrote.
The team aimed to fill this gap. Their results provide a glimpse into how future climate change could impact local regions and economies that rely on coffee cultivation, underscoring the value of local adaptation measures.
Researchers analyzed how 19 different climate factors, such as mean temperatures and rainfall levels, would affect the cultivation of five distinct specialty coffee types in the future, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) reported. Although researchers found that areas suitable for growing "average quality coffee" may actually increase over time with climate change, regions where specialty coffee is grown will shrink — a pending problem in light of the global demand for high-quality coffee.
"This is an issue not just for coffee lovers, but for local agricultural value creation," Abel Chemura, the study's lead author, told the PIK.
Coffee profiles rely on specific climate patterns for their unique flavors, levels of acidity and fragrances. But in a warmer climate, the coffee cherry — the fruit picked from a coffee plant — matures faster than the bean inside, making for a lower quality cup of coffee, the PIK reported.
For example, the sought-after Yirgacheffe variety of coffee, which is cultivated in southwestern Ethiopia, could lose more than 40 percent of its suitable growth area by the end of the century, PIK reported. This could impact small farms and threaten Ethiopia's economy, the researchers noted.
"If one or more coffee regions lose their specialty status due to climate change this has potentially grave ramifications for the smallholder farmers in the region," Christoph Gornott, co-author of the study, told the PIK. "If they were forced to switch to growing conventional, less palatable and bitter coffee types, they would all of the sudden compete with industrial production systems elsewhere that are more efficient." In a country where coffee exports account for nearly a third of all agricultural exports, "this could prove fatal," Gornott added.
Climate change impacts on coffee production are not unique to Ethiopia. In Columbia's mountainous coffee-growing regions, temperatures are warming by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit every decade, according to Yale Environment 360. Extreme levels of precipitation, which are becoming more common, also impact production, as they spread insect and fungal diseases.
"In earlier times, the climate was perfect for coffee," one small farmer in Columbia told Yale Environment 360. "In the period of flowering, there was summer. During harvest, there was winter. But from 2008 onward, this changed and we now don't know when it will be summer, when the coffee will blossom."
But researchers say there are glimmers of hope, emphasizing the importance of local adaptation measures that are designed for particular climates and communities. For example, in regions where temperature is an important factor for specialty coffee cultivation, the researchers suggest improved agroforestry systems that could maintain canopy temperatures, a promising step toward sustaining the "availability and taste of one of the world's most beloved beverages and, more importantly, on economic opportunities in local communities of the Global South," Gornott concluded.