Trouble’s brewing from the coffee farm to the local Starbucks, and it’s time for everyone who cares about this worldwide staple to wake up and smell the…

….impact of climate change.

“As temperatures rise and droughts intensify, good coffee will become increasingly difficult to grow and expensive to buy,” wrote Time magazine’s Justin Worland. “Since governments are reacting slowly to the problem, companies like Starbucks have stepped in to save themselves, reaching to the bottom of their supply chains to ensure reliable access to their product.”

The seriousness of the threat that climate change poses to the coffee industry is clear from a growing number of studies. They make the case that rising temperatures will bring drought, increase the range of diseases, and kill large swaths of the insects that pollinate coffee plants. Citing a recent study in the journal Climatic Change, Worland reported that about half of the land used to produce high-quality coffee could be unproductive by 2050. Another paper, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that that number could be as high as 88 percent in Latin America.

Most major American retailers, including Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, sell Arabica coffee. It grows in a narrow region of the tropics known as the Coffee Belt, which stretches from Central America to sub-Saharan Africa to Asia. “Conditions must be just right or a harvest is lost,” Worland wrote.

“In the past, some areas occasionally experienced off years because of a bad storm or a temperature fluctuation. Researchers say that in the future such challenges will be constant. Farmers in some regions will be able to adapt by growing at higher elevations, but in others there is nowhere else to go. Entire regions risk becoming unable to continue producing Arabica coffee, and (Starbucks founder Howard) Schultz and others say there’s no way to make the more resilient Robusta variety, which is sometimes blended with Arabica to make instant coffee, palatable to the broad coffee-drinking public.”

"There is a whole lot more at stake here than: Is my nice espresso in New York going to get more expensive?” said Taylor Ricketts, the director of the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment, in an NPR interview. “Climate change is going to threaten this primary livelihood for millions of people in vulnerable communities all over the world."

What then? Lauren Markham, a writer who focuses on issues involving forced migration, visited Jumaytepeque, a Guatemalan town in Central America’s dry corridor. “A group of farmers took me to see their coffee crops. Coffee was responsible for the majority of the community’s income but had been decimated by a plague known as coffee rust, or la roya,” she wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Plagues like these aren’t necessarily caused by climate change, but it exacerbates them, and roya is now infecting plants at higher elevations as those heights become warmer. Making matters worse, stress from the drought has made these plants more vulnerable to the plague.”

Worland’s story in Time reported that stem rust cut coffee production in Central America by about 15 percent in the 2012–13 growing year, and that, due in large part to rust, the price of a pound of coffee for U.S. consumers climbed 33 percent between 2011 and 2013.

“We can’t make a living purely off coffee anymore,” one young farmer told Markham, pointing to the limp, yellow roya-pocked leaves on his land. Young people like him, he told her, either move to the cities and try to make a go of it amid the gang violence, “or they go north,” he said, to the United States.

In other words, our failure to tackle climate change affects much more than the price of your morning cup. The most promising remedy? Economists recommend putting a price on the carbon that is driving the rapid change in our climate. Congress needs to wake up and enact a carbon fee.


Thirty years ago today (June 23, 1988), as Washingtonians sweltered, James Hansen told a Senate committee that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” Hansen was the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and his warning landed at the top of the next morning’s New York Times.

Hansen, and many others, might have thought that over the next three decades we would spring into action to protect the only planet we have. In fact, we have made scant progress. The threat has accelerated, and we have failed to muster the political will to counter it.

But could we be on the verge of a breakthrough? The number-one priority is persuading Republicans on Capitol Hill that action is needed and that they can support such action without losing their jobs. This week former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican from Pascagoula, Mississippi, and John Breaux, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana, announced that they had created a new group called Americans for Carbon Dividends (AFCD).

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the group plans to put financial, advertising and lobbying muscle behind a policy proposed last year that called for taxing carbon emissions and returning the revenue as a dividend to Americans. Championing that idea were Republican stalwarts George Shultz, James Baker, Henry Paulsen, and others. AFCD’s high-profile supporters include Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, both of whom chaired the Federal Reserve.

“The tide is turning on the realization that something needs to be done in this area,” said Lott. “And the dividend changes everything. The money goes back to the people instead of into the dark, deep hole of the federal government.”

As he and Breaux put it in an op-ed titled “Here’s How to Break the Impasse on Climate” in The New York Times, “We can do this…. This is the only realistic, workable path now open to us if we want to solve one of the most daunting challenges of our time.”

The Journal’s Bradley Olson and Timothy Puko wrote, “There are signs that some in the Republican Party may be warming to some sort of climate legislation. A Climate Solutions Caucus in the House has drawn 39 Republican members since its creation two years ago. An array of U.S. corporations, many of which give to Republicans through affiliated PACs, urged President Trump not to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which he did last year.

“What’s more, younger Republicans are supportive of addressing climate change, according to the Pew Research Center. ‘Young Republicans want action on climate change, and the party has to bring solutions to the table,’ said Kiera O’Brien, 20, president of Harvard University’s Republican club, one of a number of right-leaning university groups that have come out in favor of the ‘carbon dividends’ plan.”

Meantime, there is growing interest in carbon pricing at the state level, with more than one-fifth of U.S. states considering bills on carbon fees and dividends in the last year, Kevin Kennedy and Christina DeConcini noted in a blog on the World Resource Institute’s website. The Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill June 14.

Even in Texas, a state famous for its oil and gas, there are hopeful signs. The City Council in Denton, located 40 miles north of Dallas and home to 300 natural gas wells, voted, 6-1, to obtain ALL of its power from renewable energy by 2020. The Council concluded that it was simply smart economics. Most people probably would be surprised to learn that 18 percent of the energy generated in Texas last year came from wind and solar power.

So yes, the climate change challenge is daunting, but momentum for enactment of a carbon fee is building. The American people need to tell Congress to climb on board.



Are you planning to fly anywhere this summer?

If you are, let’s hope that you aren’t doing so during a heat wave. You may recall that on June 19, 2017, nearly 50 flights scheduled from Phoenix were scrubbed when the mercury reached 119 degrees. This mostly affected Bombardier regional jets, which aren’t certified to fly in temperatures above 118. Larger Boeing and Airbus aircraft were able to take off normally during that heat wave.

The extreme summer heat in Las Vegas prompted one airline to suspend service for the season and another to adjust its departure schedule and caused an undetermined number of delays and cancellations at McCarran International Airport, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Aviation challenges are among the problems that few people realized might result from climate change. The aviation industry is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because it doesn’t take much of a disturbance in the weather to cause delays and rerouted flights. “The airplanes are operating on tight schedules, and if they get behind, it can mess up the whole network,” said Ethan Coffel, lead author of a study by a team from Columbia University and Logistics Management Institute.


This administration may not take climate change seriously, but over at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis and most other top officials believe that scientists know what they’re talking about.

The U.S. Navy has seen climate change’s impact on its facilities at places such as Naval Station Norfolk, where pier inundation now happens at least monthly, impeding training and maintenance schedules and thus fleet readiness. Sea levels there are rising one inch every six years—more than double the average global rate.

According to the Department of Defense’s Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, climate change will affect the military’s built and natural infrastructure and its acquisition and supply chain in dramatic ways, as Forest L. Reinhardt & Michael W. Toffel explained in Harvard Business Review. We can expect flash flooding and mudslides in Hawaii, home to the Pacific Fleet, and intensified droughts in California, where the Navy has more than $40 billion in assets. In Alaska, the Navy is being forced to rebuild and relocate roads, buildings, and airfields as the permafrost melts, and it might eventually have to relocate some of its bases. International bases are also likely to be severely affected by storm surges and higher sea levels.


Since the day last June when President Trump took to the South Lawn of the White House to declare his intention to withdraw our country from the Paris climate accord, more than 2,600 leaders from America’s city halls, state houses, boardrooms, and college campuses have signed the We Are Still In declaration.

This network includes 1,780 businesses and investors, nine states, 252 cities and counties, 213 faith organizations, and 339 colleges and universities. Together, they represent more than 130 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy.

In an open letter to the international community, We are Still In declared, “We will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement….The Trump administration’s announcement ... out of step with what is happening in the United States.

“...It is imperative that the world know that in the U.S., the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses. Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2℃ and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.”