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 three stories from the past week that you should know about.
Top coffee-producer Brazil looks to new varieties of beans that are more resistant to climate change.
The story: Climate change is coming for your morning cup of joe. After decades of producing arabica coffee beans — a delicate and popular variety known for its low acidity — Brazil is changing course to meet the challenges presented by a rapidly changing climate, Maytaal Angel, Marcelo Teixeira and Roberto Samora report for Reuters.
Increasingly, Brazilian coffee producers are turning to a type of bean called robusta, commonly grown in Vietnam. Robusta beans are exactly what they sound like: remarkably robust. They are easier to grow in harsh environments and far more tolerant of rising temperatures. Unfortunately, robusta beans are also known for their strong, bitter taste and fetch lower prices in the market than arabica beans.
The big picture: As the global leader in coffee production, Brazil has the potential to permanently alter the market through the expansion of robusta crops, narrowing the availability of flavors for consumers and challenging Vietnam’s long dominance growing the heartier variety of beans. In the long run, increased climate variability could slash the world’s suitable coffee-growing area in half, disrupting not only our morning routines, but the income of millions of farmers who grow coffee and the seasonal laborers who harvest it by hand. This reduction in coffee supply means that prices will go up, potentially resulting in future coffee shortages, experts say.
Conservation International launched the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a network that works with its 164 partners — including Starbucks, Walmart, McDonald’s and Dunkin’— to help protect the world’s supply of coffee, while ensuring the long-term health of farming communities where the crop has strong social and economic importance.
Read more here.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, whales in Alaska receive a reprieve from ocean noise.
The story: In 2020, only 48 visitors arrived in Alaska by cruise ship — down from 1.3 million in 2019, Anthony Zurcher reports for BBC. While tourists may have missed a chance to explore “the last frontier,” the decrease in visitors was good news for whales as well as the scientists who study them. Researchers emphasized the unique ways in which humpback whales reacted to suddenly silent waters — from traveling farther distances apart from one another to producing more varied songs.
The big picture: While some species such as whales experienced more peace during the pandemic, COVID-19 restrictions had a negative effect on wildlife in other parts of the world. For example, recent reports from Conservation International field offices suggest that poaching and deforestation in the tropics increased during lockdowns.
“In Africa, there has been an alarming increase in bushmeat harvest and wildlife trafficking that is directly linked to COVID-19-related lockdowns, decreased food availability and damaged economies as a result of tourism collapses,” Matt Lewis, who leads Conservation International’s work on wildlife trafficking issues in Africa, told Conservation News.
Read more here.
Scientific evidence is mounting that methane gas is the next big challenge in climate mitigation.
The story: Methane — a type of planet-warming greenhouse gas that is even more potent than carbon dioxide — is exacerbating climate change, according to a new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Humans are spewing methane into the atmosphere at a higher rate today than any other time in the last 800,000 years, Rebecca Leber reports for Vox. While extractive industries argue that increased methane emissions are not their fault, Leber writes that there is plenty of evidence to the contrary: “Since 2013, at least 45 scientific papers have highlighted the disproportionate role of oil and gas operations.”
The big picture: The outsized impact of methane emissions has been absent from many conversations surrounding climate change, but that is quickly changing. As their role in global warming takes center stage, there is more that can be done to slash emissions. A peer-reviewed study recently published in Environmental Research Letters suggests that quick action to mitigate methane can help avoid a temperature increase of more than half a degree by the end of this century.
If half a degree doesn’t seem like much, Jane Lubchenco, a senior science adviser to the Biden administration, stressed the urgency during an interview with Vox: “Every avoided tenth of a degree matters.”
Read more here.
To prevent animal-borne diseases from spilling over into humans, governments must increase investments in protecting tropical forests, improving health practices in large livestock farms and restricting the global wildlife trade, according to a new report led by Harvard's Scientific Task Force to Prevent Pandemics at the Source.
Cover image: Coffee berries, Mexico (© Cristina Mittermeier)