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Coffee rust, climate exodus, green recovery: 3 stories you may have missed

© Cristina Mittermeier

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Coffee rust is going to ruin your morning 

Coffee crops are experiencing their own pandemic, experts say.

The Story: Climate change is making coffee crops more vulnerable to a deadly fungus known as coffee-leaf rust, reported Maryn McKenna for The Atlantic. Named for the russet dust it leaves behind on plants, coffee-leaf rust caused more than US$ 3 million in damage and profit losses for coffee farmers around the world from 2012 to 2017. The fungus is able to travel rapidly through coffee crops by spreading its spores through the air — and many of its strains are becoming resistant to fungicide sprays. According to experts, unpredictable rainfall and rising global temperatures fueled by climate change are causing coffee-leaf rust to reproduce more quickly — and spread more widely across coffee plantations.

The Big Picture: Research shows that the impacts of climate change — including more frequent pest outbreaks — have the potential to cut the world’s coffee-growing regions in half, and put at least 60 percent of all species of coffee at risk of extinction. This loss could have catastrophic consequences for the entire multi-billion-dollar coffee industry, particularly for the rural farmers that depend on coffee crops for their livelihoods. To tackle this growing issue, Conservation International launched the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a network that urges its 155 partners — including Starbucks, Walmart, McDonald’s and Dunkin’— to commit to sustaining the world’s coffee by supporting rural farmers and investing in research to develop disease-resistant strains of coffee plants.

Read more here

The impacts of climate change could force millions of people across the United States to relocate.   

The Story: From severe heat waves to rising sea levels to extended droughts, the impacts of climate change could displace tens of millions of people throughout the United States, reported Abrahm Lustgarten for The New York Times. Based on a New York Times analysis of economic and climate data, nearly one in every two residents of the U.S. are likely to experience a decline in quality of life by 2070 due to the impacts of climate change. As conditions worsen, experts predict that millions of people will migrate toward Northeastern cities to avoid rising sea levels on coastlines in the South and intense wildfires in the West. 

The Big Picture: Experts say that the influx of people migrating to urban areas in the United States could exacerbate conflicts over resources and limit housing availability, which could increase poverty, widen economic gaps and intensify racial inequality. According to The New York Times analysis, the U.S. could help limit the impacts of climate change that are driving these migrations by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, even under the best-case climate scenarios, many communities will still face the severe consequences of global warming over the next decade — and experts agree that the U.S. must prepare by investing in climate adaptation measures such as seawalls and air-conditioned areas open to the public during heat waves. 

Read more here

In the United States, cities are investing in green infrastructure to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

The Story: Some cities in the United States are taking advantage of emptier streets during the pandemic to implement green infrastructure such as walking paths, electric charging stations and buildings that use renewable energy, reported Oliver Milman for The Guardian. For example, Seattle is transforming more than 32 kilometers (20 miles) of streets into walking paths to reduce vehicular travel, while New Orleans is in the midst of a multi-million-dollar project to outfit its buildings with infrastructure that will protect them from rising seas and hurricanes. 

The Big Picture: “We need to pivot to a green economy,” said LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans’ mayor. “Our people are vulnerable to climate change — [New Orleans] is sinking as a city. We don’t have a choice.” Not only could green infrastructure help mitigate climate change, it could also help states recover more rapidly from economic downturns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent study found. The authors of the study discovered that green policies such as those that support renewable energy and energy efficiency are more likely to result in greater immediate economic benefits and higher long-term savings compared with traditional stimulus packages.

Read more here

News Spotlight

As fires rage through California, journalist David Helvarg is chronicling how the blazes are impacting the firefighters trying to stop them. 


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Man inspects coffee berries, Chiapas, Mexico (© Cristina Mittermeier)

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