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The Coffee Crisis: Climate Change, Addiction, and your Morning Cup of Joe

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

Bea M.

May 15, 2020

Climate change has been on America’s mind for over two decades, and the change we need has yet to come. Many have predicted the slap in the face America needs to take action, and this might just be it.

That’s right, America. Our coffee is in danger.

Every day we hear the word “need” accompanied with “coffee”. Sometimes these points are veiled in the statement “I’m a mess, I haven't had my coffee yet”. It’s shown that 64% of Americans drink coffee at least once a day (80% of Americans drink some form of caffeine), so it’s no surprise that it’s such a profitable business. According to Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, climate change is among one of the business’ biggest threats. Increasingly common droughts and rising temperatures are making coffee harder to grow, and, as a result, more expensive to buy. Starbucks noticed the government's lack of motivation to take action, so they invested in a 600 acre plot of land in Costa Rica to study how to overcome the threat of climate change. The plot of land is out of reach of the rising sea, and isn’t often affected by the raging storms or heat that accompanies climate change. Schultz hopes the information they gather will improve agriculture across the globe.

Not only is climate change altering the environment in which coffee grows, the droughts and heat are a threat to the insects that pollinate it. A paper in a scientific journal from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that up to 88% of the land used to grow coffee will be unproductive by 2050.

Why is this important? America has developed a dependance on coffee that is increasingly being described as “an addiction.” In fact, a study from 1994 proves that coffee is an addictive substance. Looking at the chemical breakdown of caffeine, it’s properties are very similar to a chemical in our brain called adenosine. The similarities make it a perfect fit for the brain cells where adenosine is usually received, effectively blocking it out. Adenosine also happens to be the chemical that makes us tired. The energy and alertness that comes from this reaction makes our brain release dopamine; this chemical is also the chemical behind many other addictions. This reaction is very similar to reactions caused by stimulants such as adderall, but it isn’t permanent. However, consuming caffeine daily can, after a period of time, change the brain's chemistry. One of these reactions recedes from the effects of coffee over time, and the brain cells develop more adenosine receptors in an attempt to balance out the lack of space. As a result, the effects of caffeine become dull and the brain starts to seek out more to retain the original high, and stopping creates symptoms of withdrawal: dizziness, constant exhaustion, headaches, etc. This proves that America’s dependence on coffee is a result of drug-like effects.

All of this sounds very scary, but coffee (in moderation) is fine. At the very least, capitalism encouraged coffee companies to research climate change and agriculture. Maybe the coffee crisis will be what finally pushes America to take action.

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