Do we care more for our cup of coffee than for starving workers?

by georgehep

Coffee was not an indigenous drink in my parents house. A bottle of Camp coffee was always kept for visitors at the back of the cupboard  but rarely called on.


I only started drinking coffee in the lower sixth year at school. I spent most of my days playing bridge in the prefects den and drinking large amounts of instant Nescafe. If ever asked by Mr Gove, I would defend my behaviour and argue for today’s pupils to have a year without the pressure of exams . The skills of bridge playing have stood me in good stead ever after.  


On my first day at work, I  was introduced to a succession of  new  colleagues who with exception pressed another cup of coffee on me. Social workers kept their adrenalin flowing on the stuff and so my social addiction was born.


I adopted fair trade coffee some years ago and  last year graduated to black coffee.  I was challenged by the proprietor of Pink Lane Coffee to try one of his many varieties of fine coffee without milk. “Milk ruins the taste of my coffee”, he told me, and he was right.


But  I may have to face life without the taste of coffee and the shot of caffeine.  If the predictions in the  latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change come to pass, the temperate climate required in coffee plantations will disappear.  The price of coffee will go sky high. Starbucks is so worried that it is lobbying the White House.


Even now extreme weather is causing world shortages of coffee beans. The drought in Brazil earlier this year saw wholesale price double. Rising temperatures have caused an outbreak of leaf rust which destroys coffee plants and an invasion of  berry borer beetle, who  thrive in warmer temperatures,  and decimate the coffee crop.


In Nicaragua, nearly one third of the working population depends on coffee production, directly or indirectly. By 2050  most of the coffee plantations will be unusable because of falling rainfall and rising temperatures.


Mauricio Galindo of the International Coffee Organisation says that climate change is the biggest threat to the industry. “If we don’t prepare ourselves, we are heading for a big disaster. In the worse case scenario, we will only have a few places producing coffee.”


It is sad fact of life that we  press the panic button much sooner after a small amount of pain close at home rather  than for devastation further away. The crisis rating is in inverse proportion to  pain times proximity.


 I should be more worried about the livelihood of 25m rural households in the poorer countries of the world whose hard work for little pay provides the 2bn cups of coffee consumed each day. But  it will be lack of coffee that will bring me up with a shock. Life will not be the same without it.


In the most authoritative survey yet on the likely effect of climate change, compiled and agreed by over 400 scientists,  the United Kingdom gets off lightly. Food prices will rise, deaths from heat waves will increase and the precious coastal landscapes on the west coast of Scotland -‘the machairs’ – will disappear. Grouse moors will wither and coffee will become a delicacy.


There is still much we could do to alter the odds of rising temperatures. The huge amounts of food wasted in supermarkets and in our own larders becomes daily more obscene. The apparent indifference of most politicians is something we should challenge in the run up  to elections this year and next.


In the rest of the world, and predominantly in poorer countries, the yield of  wheat , maize and rice will steadily decrease in the face of rising demand for those commodities. Hundreds of millions of people will be displaced through rising coastlines and lack of fresh water. Most of Bangladesh is likely to be underwater. The gloomy report concludes that “the world is not ready for climate change” 


Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, believes we will see fights over water and food as a direct impacts of climate change in the next ten years. He asked last week whether there is a plan capable of tackling this challenge. He  implied  that the World Bank  would throw money at a solution.  My feeble and selfish plan is to sneak an extra packet of coffee into the trolley every time I go to the supermarket and stow it away.


Cliff? Is that You?


Am I alone in thinking that Nick Clegg looks and sounds a lot like a young Cliff Richard. Are they related? I think we should be told.


What would I have advised Nick, admittedly now with the wisdom of hindsight, if I had been on his team as he prepared for the invidious task of debating with Nigel Farage last week on our membership of the European Union.?


First, don’t ridicule your opponent and try to make him into a figure of fun. Take him seriously. Derision of Nick or Alex only diminishes you and gains them public sympathy.


Second, dont keep referring to UKIP policies and beliefs. It allows their arguments to dominate the debate.


Third, try and avoid statistics. Eyes glaze over and you end up in a blind alley. ( I still have no idea how many of our laws are determined in Brussels).


Finally, and most important, don’t apologise for making your case. Sing the praises of membership of the European Union.  Proclaim the benefits loud and clear.  That is the best way to persuade the undecided.


The closing  lines from the late Tony Judt’s enlightening  history of Post War Europe might be worth mentioning.   “In spite of the horrors of their recent past – and in large measure because of them – it was the Europeans who were now uniquely placed to offer the world some modest advice on how to avoid repeating their own mistakes. Few would have predicted it sixty years before, but the twenty-first century might yet belong to Europe.”