Is Climate Change Consuming Your Favorite Foods?

Thanks to climate, endangered lists are no longer just for animals

Peanut Butter on Toast
LauriPatterson / Getty Images

Thanks to climate change, we may not only need to adapt to living in a warmer world but a less tasty one, too.  

As the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, heat stress, longer droughts, and more intense rainfall events linked to ​global warming continue to affect our daily weather, we often forget they're also impacting the quantity, quality, and growing locations of our food. The following foods have already felt the impact, and because of it, have earned a top spot on the world's "endangered foods" list. Many of them may become scarce within the next 30 years. 

01
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Coffee

Coffee
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Whether or not you try to limit yourself to one cup of coffee a day, the effects of climate change on the world's coffee-growing regions may leave you little choice.

Coffee plantations in South America, Africa, Asia, and Hawaii are all being threatened by rising air temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns, which invite disease and invasive species to infest the coffee plant and ripening beans. The result? Significant cuts in coffee yield (and less coffee in your cup).

Organizations like Australia's Climate Institute estimate that, if current climate patterns continue, half of the areas presently suitable for coffee production won't be by the year 2050. 

02
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Chocolate

Close-Up Of Dark Chocolate On Table
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Coffee's culinary cousin, cacao (aka chocolate), is also suffering stress from global warming's rising temperatures. But for chocolate, it isn't the warmer climate alone that's the problem. Cacao trees actually prefer warmer climates...as long as that warmth is paired with high humidity and abundant rain (i.e., a rainforest climate). According to the 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the problem is, the higher temperatures projected for the world's leading chocolate-producing countries (Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia) are not expected to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall. So as higher temperatures sap more moisture from from soil and plants through evaporation, it's unlikely that rainfall will increase enough to offset this moisture loss.    

In this same report, the IPCC predicts that these effects could reduce cocoa production by ... —that means 1 million less tons of bars, truffles, and powder per year by 2020.

03
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Tea

Young man picking tea
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When it comes to tea (the world's 2nd favorite beverage next to water), warmer climates and erratic precipitation aren't only shrinking the world's tea-growing regions, they're also messing with its distinct flavor.

For example, in India, researchers have already discovered that the Indian Monsoon has brought more intense rainfall, which waterlogs plants and dilutes tea flavor. 

Recent research coming out of the University of Southampton suggests that tea-producing areas in some places, notably East Africa, could decline by as much as 55 percent by 2050 as precipitation and temperatures change.

Tea pickers (yes, tea leaves are traditionally harvested by hand) are also feeling the impacts of climate change. During harvest season, increased air temperatures are creating an increased risk of heatstroke for field workers. 

04
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Honey

Honeycomb
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More than one-third of America's honeybees have been lost to Colony Collapse Disorder, but climate change is having its own effects on bee behavior. According to a 2016 US Department of Agriculture study, rising carbon dioxide levels are decreasing the protein levels in pollen—a bee's main food source. As a result, bees aren't getting enough nutrition, which in turn can lead to less reproduction and even eventual die-off. As USDA plant physiologist Lewis Ziska puts it, "Pollen is becoming junk food for bees."

But that's not the only way climate is messing with bees. Warmer temperatures and earlier snow melt can trigger earlier spring flowering of plants and trees; so early, in fact, that bees may still be in the larva stage and not yet mature enough to pollinate them.  

The fewer worker bees to pollinate, the less honey they're able to make. And that means fewer crops too, since our fruits and vegetables exist thanks to the tireless flight and pollination by our native bees. 

05
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Seafood

A selection of raw fish
Image Source / Getty Images

Climate change is affecting the world's aquaculture as much as its agriculture.

As air temperatures rise, oceans and waterways absorb some of the heat and undergo warming of their own. The result is a decline in fish population, including in lobsters (who are cold-blooded creatures), and salmon (whose eggs and fry find it hard to survive in higher water temps). Warmer waters also encourage toxic marine bacteria, like Vibrio, to grow and cause illness in humans whenever ingested with raw seafood, like oysters or sashimi.   

And that satisfying "crack" you get when eating crab and lobster? It could be silenced as shellfish struggle to build their calcium carbonate shells, a result of ocean acidification (absorb carbon dioxide from the air).

Even worse is the possibility of no longer eating seafood at all, which according to a 2006 Dalhousie University study, is a possibility. In this study, scientists predicted that if over-fishing and rising temperature trends continued at their present rate, the world's seafood stocks would run out by the year 2050.

06
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Rice

Scenic View Of Rice Field Against Sky
Nipaporn Arthit / EyeEm / Getty Images

When it comes to rice, our changing climate is more of a threat to the growing method than to the grains themselves.

Rice farming is done in flooded fields (called paddies), but as increased global temperatures bring more frequent and more intense droughts, the world's rice-growing regions may not have enough water to flood fields to the proper level (usually 5 inches deep). This could make the cultivating this nutritious staple crop more difficult. 

Oddly enough, rice somewhat contributes to the very warming that could thwart its cultivation. The water in rice paddies blocks oxygen from aerating soil and creates ideal conditions for methane-emitting bacteria. And methane, as you may know, is a greenhouse gas that's more than 30 times as potent as heat-trapping carbon dioxide. 

07
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Wheat

Close-Up Of Wheat Growing On Field Against Sky
Michael Hille / EyeEm / Getty Images

A recent study involving Kansas State University researchers finds that in the coming decades, at least one-quarter of the world's wheat production will be lost to extreme weather and water stress if no adaptive measures are taken.

Researchers found that the effects from climate change and its increasing temperatures on wheat will be more severe than once projected and are happening sooner than expected. While increases in the average temperature are problematic, a bigger challenge is the extreme temperatures that are resulting from climate change. Researchers also found that increasing temperatures are shortening the time frame that wheat plants have to mature and produce full heads for harvest, resulting in less grain produced from each plant.

According to a study released by the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, corn and soybean plants can lose 5% of their harvest for every day temperatures climb above 86 °F (30 °C). (Corn plants are especially sensitive to heat waves and drought.) At this rate, future harvests of wheat, soybeans, and corn could drop by up to 50 percent.

08
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Orchard Fruits

Juicy red peaches ripen on the tree
Petko Danov / Getty Images

Peaches and cherries, two favorite stone fruits of the summer season, may in fact suffer at the hands of too much heat.

According to David Lobell, deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, fruit trees (including cherry, plum, pear, and apricot) require "chilling hours"— a period of time when they're exposed to temperatures below 45° F (7° C) each winter. Skip the required cold, and fruit and nut trees struggle to break dormancy and flower in the spring. Ultimately, this means a drop in the amount and quality of fruit that's produced.    

By the year 2030, scientists estimate the number of 45°F or colder days during winter will have lessened significantly.  

09
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Maple Syrup

Pouring Maple Syrup Over Pancakes
Image(s) by Sara Lynn Paige / Getty Images

Rising temperatures in the Northeast U.S. and Canada have negatively impacted sugar maple trees, including dulling the trees' fall foliage and stressing the tree to the point of decline. But while the total retreat of sugar maples out of the U.S. may still be several decades away, climate is already wreaking havoc on it's most prized products— maple syrup—today.

For one, warmer winters and yo-yo winters (periods of cold sprinkled with periods of unseasonable warmth) in the Northeast have shortened the "sugaring season"—the period when temperatures are mild enough to coax trees to turn stored-up starches into sugar sap, but not warm enough to trigger budding. (When trees bud, sap is said to become less palatable.)

Too-hot temperatures have also lessened the maple sap's sweetness. "What we found was that after years when trees produced a lot of seeds, there was less sugar in the sap," says Tufts University ecologist Elizabeth Crone. Crone explains that when trees are more stressed out, they drop more seeds. "They'll invest more of their resources in producing seeds that can hopefully go somewhere else where the environmental conditions are better." This means it takes more gallons of sap to make a pure gallon of maple syrup with the required 70% sugar content. Twice as many gallons, to be exact.    

Maple farms are also seeing less light-colored syrups, which is considered to be the mark of a more "pure" product. During warm years, more dark or amber syrups are produced.  

10
of 10

Peanuts

Peanut Butter on Toast
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Peanuts (and peanut butter) may be one of the simplest of snacks, but the peanut plant is considered to be fairly fussy, even among farmers. 

Peanut plants grow best when they get five months of consistently warm weather and 20-40 inches of rain. Anything less and plants won't survive, much less produce pods. That isn't good news when you consider most climate models agree the climate of the future will be one of extremes, including droughts and heatwaves

In 2011, the world caught a glimpse of the peanut's future fate when drought conditions across the peanut-growing Southeastern U.S. led many plants to wither and die from heat stress. According to CNN Money, the dry spell caused peanut prices to rise by as much as 40 percent!

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Means, Tiffany. "Is Climate Change Consuming Your Favorite Foods?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/climate-change-food-shortage-4136737. Means, Tiffany. (2017, July 12). Is Climate Change Consuming Your Favorite Foods? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/climate-change-food-shortage-4136737 Means, Tiffany. "Is Climate Change Consuming Your Favorite Foods?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/climate-change-food-shortage-4136737 (accessed November 19, 2017).