The Bitter Future of Chocolate: Climate Change and Agriculture

As I watched my younger brother finish up the last of his carefully rationed Easter candy from a few weeks ago, I began thinking about agricultural changes throughout the world. 

I was intrigued when I found that NOAA released an article about this very issue in 2014 following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Chocolate has been around for thousands of years in several iterations. The ingredients needed for production are quite particular about where they will take root: typically within 10° north and south of the equator. The article claims that “the world’s leading producers are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana produce over half of the world’s chocolate”.Consider that this small region is able to grow the cocoa powder for all of the world’s Valentines days, and day-after clearance chocolate.

As the world heats up, this raises a problem for the region. The temperature range that the cocoa beans can grow into is very slim, and should climate change influence global temperatures, this margin for growth becomes even slimmer. The problem being not the heat, but the heat’s impact on water and humidity. EcoWatch advertises that cacao beans often grow best with between 80-100% humidity. Scientists are worried that as flood and droughts become more common, this will impact most of the agricultural available locations in the world, and plants like cacao trees that require stable temperatures year round will falter as weather patterns shift.


The unsung impact of this also comes back on the farmers. As weather grows more unreliable, farmers are forced to move into less reliable locations, often deeper into the jungle to have a successful harvest. The worse-case scenario being that the capitalist market drives farmers to clear rainforests to have available farmland left. The Fair Trade Foundation claims that “ninety percent of the world’s cocoa is grown on small family farms by about six million farmers who earn their living from growing and selling cocoa beans.”

This means that should the world choose to live in a world without chocolate, and one that centers the lives and rights of those that grow our food throughout the world, climate policies must be taken seriously. It is also imperative that climate-aware policies and practices are implemented throughout the world. This desert is not alone, hundreds of plants face this threat with each day that we do not take global action.

Read more:

A Tale of Two Cities: Climate Change, Capital, and Colonialism

Jakarta, Indonesia is the second most populous city in the world and sinking at the fastest rate ever recorded. Comparatively, Venice, Italy, a prominent city in Western Europe is also sinking, and the world has been made aware of it. Venice particularly gets a lot of attention for the pictures that come out in the extreme flooding of the winter months as chairs in the central piazzas are submerged, and the raised platforms above the water swells come out; necessary infrastructure for Italians to continue about their daily lives. In the last century alone, Venice has sunk approximately nine inches, a considerable amount for a largely populated and economically proficient country with an emphasis on community and environmental issues.Meanwhile Jakarta, Indonesia is able to boast the sinking average of up to 25 cm a year compared to Venice’s mere 3 mm. Additionally, while Venice is home to only a quarter of a million people, the growing Indonesian megacity has increased its population from 150,000 to an estimated 25 million residents in the last century alone. 

These coastal and geographical hindrances are the result of environmental changes these past hundred years. Especially as the Adriatic Sea and Jakarta Bay continues to rise, these coastal solutions would be thought to be on the forefront of these countries’ policies. However, this is not the case and other countries are instead rising to the challenge. Coastal climate change implications are not just a regional issue. Globally, more than 50% of the population live in cities, the majority of which are located on the coast and countries with coastal regions often have a higher GDP and contribute more to the global economy. While in Jakarta, the partial source of this sinking can be traced back to government mismanagement of groundwater supply and land subsidence regulations, for these coastal cities, the culprit is a lack of international cooperation in combating climate change.  

While Jakarta and Venice both look to uphold substantial urbanizing centers and tourism industries, this influx in rapid growth causes both economic and environmental problems for the regions as urbanization tries to adapt to keep up with the needs of its citizens and sinking coast. However, these are not the only two cities that face these challenges. As the need for international climate solutions become more pronounced, it is beneficial for the international community to look to other coastal cities for aid in their shared challenges. For Jakarta and Venice, Rotterdam  is that city from which to ask for help; a city which has become internationally recognized for its work in sustainable efforts- even championed as “the perfect showcase for climate change adaptation”. In fact, the Netherlands is so highly regarded as being at the forefront of sustainable solutions, that when the Indonesian government decided to construct a 40 billion dollar Garuda Seawall project, it was the Dutch that weighed in on the engineering of their former colonies’ flood mitigation strategy (pictured below). The project to develop the Garuda Seawall is a joint Indonesian, South Korean and Dutch venture, championed the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) programme. However, this has not been without resistance from Indonesian residents. An interesting factor in this partnership is the former history of colonization between the Netherlands and Indonesia. This has led to a lot of distrust between local residents and the government as they are allowing a Dutch company to run and finance the operation that will ultimately be the solution to save their communities and their lives. 


While Jakarta grapples with the advice from the Netherlands and the environmental and cultural conflict within its state, Venice has been able to begin tackling its environmental issues through the CDC, all the while looking to Rotterdam as that aforementioned “perfect” example of climate change adaptation”. The benefit of this mentorship that Jakarta doesn’t have is the ease of following the example of a fellow Western-championed city with similarities in geography, culture, and in this case, the benefits of the European Union. As Venice began developing a Climate Action Plan, they identified flooding and an increase of rain as causes, much like Rotterdam (and Jakarta), and began mimicking the policies and budget after their sister European city. The Connecting Delta Cities’ plan for Venice was to relate environmental and economic policies “with the main town Planning Instruments, to include their objectives and coordinate many of the future actions like the Town Physical Plan, the Water Plan, the Urban Mobility Plan” for ease in implementation. However, a unique characteristic of Venice is that 61% of the city’s surface area is water. This allows for some change in policy and scientific ingenuity similar to that presented in the Jakarta Garuda Seawall, as the lagoon of Venice that much of the city survives on is a partially “man-made environment” and must be continually maintained. These are the kinds of challenges that some regions of the world face, and it would benefit Jakarta and Venice to work together as part of the CDC to find solutions for both their cities and the future. Yet, despite this mutual problem, Venice is the only one receiving international attention.

This only goes to show the level of care and attention given to cities in different regions: global north or south. While on the CDC website, Rotterdam gets to claim the title of the model delta city, Venice also gets a nod to “improving its overall resilience” and dedication to “ protecting its people and national heritage”. Meanwhile, Jakarta’s information is limited, and gets the subtitle of “aiming to reduce flooding in the city by 75% by 2016″. There are certain limitations involved in combating climate change policies that Western countries have an advantage in due to economic and political ties. For example, the most important factor in the South Pacific development is that while coastal Jakarta may first be affected and the ten millions residents who call the coast home, it will also impact the periphery and its additional 18 million Indonesian residents who depend on the capital city for survival. But this expansion is not calculated in the most western reports of the city’s population: listing the population in the ten millions, not closer to thirty million. Yet, Jakarta’s business district alone generates one sixth of Indonesia’s total GDP and consequently this capital city has a role on the world stage. Despite this claim to become a major contributor to the international economy , the Netherlands and South Korea feel they have an economic interest as well as a former colonial responsibility to help advise and finance the development of the Garuda Seawall. There are some countries who feel that they should be granted the time to develop without the imposition of global environmental restrictions like India and Indonesia, and other countries who want to, in this case, help finance these operations to find more economical and environmental solutions like the Netherlands and South Korea. In return, these nations are able to boast that they can help finance and supervise future ventures in these economic ventures and the creation of green development of these artificial islands. They will also be able to champion the development of future preemptive solutions that coastal countries will soon need to invest in., 2015.


Leading the Future of Sustainable Action Against Climate Change: Singapore

One of three modern city-states, Singapore’s recent policies have placed the nation on the forefront of sustainable development. Its geographical location allows it to be one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, while allowing it to function as an international break-of-bulk point. All of these would not have come to fruition without the copious amount of work completed by the Singaporean government these past few years. 

The island of Singapore is about two-thirds the size of New York City, and comparatively has about half the population. However, unlike the Big Apple, according to the National Park Service of Singapore (NParks), green space takes us about 13.6% of the total land area of Singapore. Since,- the government has come out in support of environmental initiatives that support green space. Prime Minister Lee Hsien has even compared the level of preparedness to the seriousness that they treat the Singapore Armed Forces.

These reasons are also not entirely altruistic. Like several other South Asian countries, Singapore is most vulnerable to the coming, and already very present realities of climate change. As the country is primarily only 15m above sea level, even the projections from the Singapore Climate Action Plan: “between 0.25 m and 0.76 m towards the end of the century”, would cause great destruction to the state. 

The greatest threat to Singapore? Water. Both the rising tides as well as a scarcity of drinking water are realities that the country is forced to explore. The country has invested 1 billion dollars alone into seawalls and drainage for the country, with billions more allocated to other steps. This may be attainable because Singapore is the world’s third richest county broken down by GDP per capita, but it begs the questions on what less wealthy countries should do?

As with most countries, the main struggle to truly lead the rest of the world in it’s green mission, is more than just in climate change mitigation infrastructure. Singapore must break away from fossil fuels. The city-state has a very large footprint, generating 52.5 million tons of emissions in 2017. This trade-off will come at the ability to save the business district, the most vulnerable part of the city and home to the third largest oil trading hub in the world. Nevertheless, the country continues to proceed with a carbon tax, and investments in renewable energy. Singapore’s high prices and cost of living make this a difficult battle, but I have hope that they will continue to lead the world toward equitable green action plans.


Being Green: China’s Economics of Recycling

About 70% of the world’s plastic went to China until 2018. While China has been buying the recycling and waste of countries like the UK, Japan, and the United States for decades, policy implementation has been discussed that will no longer allow the US to be the sixth largest exporter of scrap and recyclable waste to China as of 2018. This has historically been a profitable industry for China due to the cheap fare of return shipping. 

As Chinese shipping containers delivered goods to the United States, the empty containers would need to be transported back. By enabling these ships to be full of recycling material that would ultimately end up in U.S. landfills, China was better able to accommodate the influx of plastic and paper materials from the United States and Europe, and sort them into usable goods. 

China for quite some time had a paper shortage through the 1990s. With a lack of raw materials, most paper was fashioned out of rice, bamboo or grain. As China’s economy began to rapidly grow, a woman, Zhang Yin noticed a hole in the market and decided to invest her $4,000 into a paper-trading company, Nine Dragons Paper. By 2010, Nine Dragons had a market value of $5 billion. 

While China would ideally like to  continue to buy the recycling to harvest less raw resources and provide a more sustainable solution, “the government told the WTO that it had found large amounts of dirty and hazardous material mixed with solid waste, leading to serious environmental pollution.” It’s no longer profitable to clean that scrap, and instead, many cities from the UK, US, and Japan are forced to start burning that trash. 

This decade was the first in which we have globally surpassed 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A large portion of this has occurred within the last half a century, and processes like burning trash, don’t help. Globally, about 40% of the world’s trash is burned as opposed to be recycled or reused. As the US produces about 30% of the world’s waste despite comprising only 5% of the world’s population, we can see that this number is planning to go up significantly without the opportunity to recycle the US’ and other productive countries’ waste. 

Recently, while social and environmental policies were meant to take a backseat to economic power, Chinese citizens’ health became the primary internal push to incorporate sustainable solutions into China’s future. Many provinces struggle with air pollution, clean water, unsafe living conditions, and fast-tracked industrial solutions to support the growing population. The World should not allow their trash to be out of sight and out of mind, but take an active approach to climate change and global citizen’s health. 

Heat and Humidity: Wet-Bulb Temperature in South Asia

In the wake of the recent UN Report on Climate Change, I have been thinking a lot about climate migration. As someone from Florida, I didn’t realize how much our infrastructure depended on air conditioning. As often as our local governments spout energy and heat index readings until we hit peak heat in mid-day summer months where it is recommended that we stay inside during the prime sun hours. We often have what we locally call “humid heat” days where we have 100% humidity and 90+ temperature degrees for our summer months. It never occurred to me that there might be a technical word for this. We complain, and in retrospect, it’s of no comparison to some places on the globe. Most of the people in my state are privileged enough to have air conditioning like myself, or state facilities close enough to them that are able to provide that as a resource. While others might not have this right available to them all, compared to 25% of India’s population that doesn’t have electricity and a hotter climate, there is a huge disparity here that is worth noting. Our state is not yet at a hazardous level of humidity, and yet there are places in the world that are, and also are without resources for all of its citizens to deal with it. I remember reading a similar article over the summer and bringing this issue up in chemistry class as the class tried to figure out the “wet bulb temperature”, and realizing how rarely we have to deal with that kind of heat. This is a problem often linked to the economic opportunity to be able to access heat-reducing resources, but also a means to leave these conditions; something that is not considered as often as I think it should be. I thought this would be an interesting discussion in migration politics and opportunities, but also in an interest of mine, the environmental and economic influences of climate change.

I was looking for a way to describe this to my brother when I found this article. I like that it mentions that as the world collectively heats up, the increase in heat won’t just be a regional problem for people closer to the equator; this will be magnified for people who don’t have the luxury of air conditioning and accessible water to minimize dehydration and heat-induced illnesses for the majority of their year in all global locations. In order to survive in these conditions, movement from the places mentioned is required. Movement from these locations would create a lot of displacement. 

However, these conditions are most notable for those who don’t have air conditioning or accessible water, and yet are still having to deal with the worsening heat and a daily risk of dehydration and other heat-induced illnesses. The article talks about how as climate change becomes exacerbated, heat and humidity in these South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan continues to rise and consequently it’s becoming deadly to even interact with these environments without these resources. This is not just something on a small scale, but something that could affect up to a third of the people living throughout the Indo-Gangetic Plain. I think that this brings a different take to interacting with the environment and how your geographic imaginary changes if it is no longer safe to call that place home by the space itself. 

The science behind the heat increase is that when it’s humid, your body has a harder time cooling down and even when you have shaded and air conditioned areas. This trapped hot moisture from heat and humidity created the condition called “wet-bulb temperature”, almost as though you’re wrapping a light bulb in a towel. This temperature becomes critical at temperature and total humidity conditions of 95 degrees. Currently, some of these countries are at 90 degree “wet bulb temperature”; something that is a hazardous living condition, especially as a large portion of workers in those regions are outside laborers. This is only expected to get worse with more negative climatic changes. 

Environmental engineers at MIT ran scenarios for curbing the temperatures if we were to curb emissions at the global level currently, only 2% of the population would be at risk. Barely more than are affected now. If projections run past that, about 4% or 60 million people would live in temperatures 95+, and this is something that can and should be prevented. Working towards the Paris Climate Agreement goals is a start, although South Asia will still be hit the hardest by environmental changes and climate migration concerns. Another factor is that humidity is now being considered a factor in the heat index for the first time. This means that for monsoon and summer seasons in particular that are susceptible to steamy, hot conditions, governments have been urged to create heat action plans to prevent deaths that have previously been caused by these heat waves. Not only would further action be able to provide resources and allow people to stay where they call home, but prevent life-threatening migration and saving people’s lives who would be forced to live in unsafe heat conditions. In other words, allow people to not have to move at all and consider their own home a place of refuge from climatic effects. 

This article was a call to action for all countries to recognize the importance of curbing carbon emissions in addition to providing resources to those who may not be able to access it in the wake of environmental changes. I appreciate that it poses the consideration of the millions of people who will be displaced and forced to move with these environmental consequences if the world does not act. In this instance, the problem of losing lives to climate change supersedes the initial threat of climate migration.