Over the past months, climate change has been the darling of the news media. Now, reporters are starting to identify ways that climate change may threaten the American way of life. For example, what if the change in weather patterns affected the world’s coffee production? According to the UNEP Global Outlook Report
this may not be an abstraction: “Coffee is the first, second, or third largest export crop for 26 mostly poor countries in Africa and Central America. Yet coffee is sensitive to changes in average temperatures.” The average U.S. coffee drinker consumes 3.1 cups of coffee a day
. Can we imagine reducing that to one cup? Or paying double or triple for a single shot of espresso?
We are also seeing more stories about the consequences of hasty efforts to limit carbon emissions. Increasing demand for low-emission fuel is already causing shortage of blue agave, the source of tequila. The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller reports on the dramatic shift from the growth of the spiky-blue native Mexican plant to tall corn stalks; and writes that agave is the latest casualty of the corn-based ethanol craze.
The quest for climate-friendly fuel could also have unintended security consequences. Another recent article quotes Andrew Pendleton of Christian Aid: “You could have blood biofuels in the same way as you have blood diamonds.” What if biofuels are the next hub of conflict resources, akin to diamonds in Sierra Leone, timber in Cambodia, or minerals in the Congo?
The news media should be mindful of speculative reporting. Of course, terms like “blood biofuels” are eye-catching, but by using them, news outlets run the risk of overselling potential threats. ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko recently spoke about this phenomena at an event on environment, conflict and cooperation, noting the fallout from Robert Kaplan’s 1994 article “The Coming Anarchy,” which launched a strand of environmental fatalism whose gloom-and-doom predictions never came to pass.
This reminds me of the warnings I was told as a child, related through the classic fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Critics of climate change are ready in waiting for the Al Gore’s of the world to be revealed as metaphorical “boys.” It is imperative, then, that concrete evidence and studies are conducted to support the claims connecting climate change and security. And for their part, the news media should be cautious in their coverage of climate change, but also be commended for hitting on a question about the developed world’s priorities: Could the threat of losing luxury items produce more action than predictions of increasing natural disasters and coastal flooding? Is the thought of losing that morning cup of coffee enough to shift public opinion and behavior? And will these global shifts have a greater impact on the already fragile security of poor and post-conflict countries?