In Bruges

On Coffee & Chocolate (and Sriracha, and Olive Oil...)

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Welcome back.

Do you like cookies? What about olive oil cake? What about chocolate chip coffee cake? Read on.

— Quinn

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I’m Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit.

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I don’t really have a sweet tooth. I have a chocolate chip cookie tooth. 

My mom makes the greatest chocolate chip cookies on earth. They have some oatmeal in them, I think. We eat them right out of the freezer (I know).

But also, I am wildly privileged, because my wife makes these other cookes with orange zest! They’re incredible. Orange zest! WTF.

Sometimes I get pastries involved. Coffee cake, sure. But gummy worms and that shit? No thanks. Peanut M&M’s and Justin’s dark chocolate PB cups are basically as close as I get to “candy”.

And sure a little piece of 80% dark chocolate to num-num while I watch spaceships pew-pew-pew at each other after the kids go to bed, nestled under my little quilt, a Feals gummy already at work turning off my brain?

You betcha. A little treat.

Another treat I adore: coffee. But I’m not a caffeine junky. Not like you, at least.

I drink exactly 2 (fine, 3) espressos a day or a small cold brew over a billion pieces of ice). And sometimes fancy matcha green tea (I lust for the one with the toasted rice in it).

But as much as I enjoy the taste of coffee and tea, I mostly use these things as a delivery vehicle for a specific amount of caffeine, my favorite performance enhancing drug. Which means I can’t do too much, too often, or it won’t work that way.

But with three ravenous children and…life…a small daily dose has become required to produce these essays. Or to parent. Or read. Or run or swim. Or breathe.

We’ve all got our dependencies, our soft spots, our “treat yo self” delicacies we cannot live without.

And over the past couple decades, we have thankfully become more conscious and where and how these are harvested. We’ve grown used to seeing Fair Trade and single origin labels and other things that tell us we are consuming them as consciously as we can. Grown by small farmers! In the Global South! With fewer additives and shit!

Here is a specific coffee and chocolate memory:

I visited Bruges (on a train! christ I love trains) about (does the math) 19 years ago (FUCK) and the city was as advertised — just goddamn delightful. So many little streets! And cafes! With treats! With every delicious little cappuccino you order, you get a little chunk of delicious chocolate on the side. What a life.

The setting and pair are perfection, timeless.

Unfortunately both of my little treats are like twice as expensive as they used to be because of climate change.

…mostly because of drought and/or torrential flooding, accompanying pests and diseases.

…oh, and deforestation and illegal mining.

Anyways, what’s your guilty pleasure?

The magnificent Katharine Hayhoe swears that the first, best, and easiest thing you can do about climate change is to talk about it, and — spoiler alert, it’s your queen, Katharine Hayhoe — she’s exactly right.

The good news and bad news about blowing right past nap time 1.5 degrees is you don’t have to argue about whether climate change is real anymore! Truly.

Uncle Gary can suck it with his “global warming is natural” and #plandemic bullshit, because he simply doesn’t have a leg to stand on anymore. It’s the hottest year in 2000 years, Gary!

All of which means we really, really do have to talk about it. But friend, it’s easier than you think.

You don’t need to be at atmospheric scientist or marine biologist or a journalist. I’m not any of those, and/or many other things. You don’t have to actually, casually, bring up the obscene ocean temps, different types of air pollution, collapse of insurance markets as we know them, or how unprepared we are for climate migration. Or the canals. And river shipping drying up.

Why not? Because of coffee and chocolate.

I have been told by reputable sources (my wife) that this beat (the existential one) means I have developed the ability to be “the bummer in any conversation”, and she’s not wrong: I like to set the record straight. Sometimes it’s not the time or the place, but I’m getting better at that, but also — tick tock, isn’t it always the time or place, now?

What I think my beloved wife’s REALLY trying to say is that there’s always a way to talk about climate change. Because, like public health, which is literally what it sounds like, climate change touches everything, and vice versa.

Including our favorite treats. Coffee. Chocolate. Peaches. Avocados. Air conditioning.

Shanu knows what I’m talking about:

I would be a bazillion dollars that most of you have enjoyed a coffee, chocolate, and/or an avocado in the past 48 hours, and probably around other people.

The conversations we need to be having arealready happening all around you. You just have to sliiiiiide in.

Don’t be a bummer, but do help people you love understand:

  1. How and why every day life is changing

  2. Who is doing it to us, and

  3. How the remaining obstacles are almost all political or about greed

Once you’ve set the stage, you get to tell Nancy and even Gary, who loves liberty and thus would actually love distributed solar, all of the many measurable ways we can unfuck the whole thing, together.

It is well past time to actually comprehensively appreciate our most favorite little treats (for example, coffee is a slave-produced drug (creating the exact conditions it alone solves — from your biological addiction to deforestation) that catalyzed the Industrial Revolution and all of western culture and economics as we know it).

I describe these in such loving (and honest) detail because — if you are new here — I will do just about anything to meet you where you are and explain how to give a shit about the world we inherited and — most importantly — the new one we can build.

Meeting people where they are doesn’t mean taking your foot off the pedal or settling for a less radically better future. It means figuring out what people already give a shit about and then helping them do something about it.

But, hey, we’re here, and coffee and chocolate are applicable to almost everyone on the planet, so let’s try them on for size, shall we?

As I detailed in “Coffee and Climate Change” just six months ago, coffee — and the countries and people that produce it — are in peril.

It’s fine to celebrate adaptation measures like mushroom, legume, “beanless”, or even synthetic coffee, and especially versions that reduce deforestation to the tune of 2 billion cups a day, but we’re still leaving a net net generation of farmers behind.

Enter: cocoa.

Coffee and chocolate crops are related in that they are extremely bitchy about temperature, water, and soil conditions. 

Friend, your temperamental circa-2020-isolate-at-home fiddle leaf fig does not hold a candle to crops that must be grown within 20 degrees of the equator.

And new wild, unpredictable weather extremes do not for a good harvest make.

Cocoa prices surged 136% between July 2022 and February 2024 thanks to both extra rain and drought across West Africa, a region which supplies 70% of the world’s cocoa and where small farmers face increasing poverty.

Drought sucks, but as anyone who has ever flooded their basement can tell you, excess water brings pests and various diseases, so harvests just keep falling short.

It doesn’t require an advanced economics degree — I can say this with certainty because I do not have one — to understand why cocoa futures were recently at a 46 year high — and now have dropped again. This isn’t tenable.

Of course, chocolate is a complex supply chain (staffed in part by child labor!), and there are actual deforestation regulations in some places now, but just because chocolate is hella expensive at Wegman’s checkout doesn’t mean those small holder farmers are making any more from huge, huge, huge conglomerate buyers, or that their jobs are any easier.

Can “traditional” coffee and chocolate be harvested elsewhere?

Well, again, they are incredibly needy crops, so yes-ish, but if it were to be harvested elsewhere, there are many, many already-poverty stricken farmers who will suddenly be without any income at all.

Which means they’ll move elsewhere. Understand this

“Since 1950, Ivory Coast has lost around 90% of its forests, while Ghana has lost around 65% over the same period.

This has driven farmers to areas less suited to cocoa cultivation like grasslands, increasing the amount of labor required and bringing further downside risks to the harvest.”

As opposed to, say, vanilla, these are crops threatened perennially, now, and on multiple fronts.

Yes, we could possibly improve crop yields and biodiversity with more native shady trees, but is that going to improve incomes so much that farmers don’t bail, or just let miners use the land instead?

Capitalism isn’t going anywhere, so can we push through something like a “living income differential”?

When you inject your shit-giving into every day conversations about why Tony’s and two shots of espresso are both $6 now, you’re going to back it up with details about supply chains and land-use, among others, similar to conversations about meat, corn, suburbs, and palm oil. 

Not the moment for coffee and chocolate? It’s always a good time to talk about burgers, parking, housing, and gas stoves.

Ok, so you get it. There’s always a way in. It’s farmer’s market season, and — have you talked to any peach farmers lately?

Like the ones that farm olive oil?

Or sriracha producers in Mexico?

Or wheat growers?

And yeah California’s flooded now, but do you remember what deep shit the Central Valley was in just two years ago?

The same Central Valley that’s responsible for 25% of the country’s food production?

The same Central Valley that’s due to dry up again this fall?

Coffee and chocolate harvests in West Africa might seem about as untouchable for you as can be, but look at us! There we were, 2000 words ago, romanticizing Bruges and cookies and cappuccino — and here we are.

There’s always a way in.

Get educated, start conversations, grow your confidence, do it more, and more widely. It’s going to make some people uncomfortable — believe me — but if these are the new climate norms, talking about it needs to be our societal norms, or we’re never going to do enough. 

Which is fucking dumb, because we have all of the tools we need.

We’ve made so much technical progress with clean energy and transportation, but our food (and ethical) systems are far, far behind. They are not simply indicators of the sacrifices we need to make — though there will certainly be some.

Like the ocean temps, coral reefs, and insurance markets, but much more ever-present, delicacies that became dependencies and commodities and which are now so, so delicate again are leading indicators of what we’re actually willing to acknowledge has already changed, and what we are willing to do to affect the world, back.

We’re well past farm-to-table now, friends. If you see something (a $7 Americano), say something.

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How To Give A Shit header

Last week’s most popular Action Step was donating to Eco-Anxious Stories to support storytelling at the intersection of mental health and climate.

  • 🌍️ Donate to support African farmers by increasing incomes and improving food security through the Alliance for a Green Africa.

  • 🌎️ Volunteer to join the Coffee & Climate Network, an organization that connects stakeholders in coffee farming to create a climate-smart future.

  • 🌎️ Get educated about regenerative agriculture that increases resilience using resources from Climate Farmers.

  • Be heard about your eco-anxiety by connecting with others having similar feelings at a Climate Psychology Alliance Climate Cafe near you.

  • Invest in deforestation-free investment options with Deforestation Free Funds.

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Last week, we asked: Do you think that storytelling can be an effective tool for raising awareness and influencing people's perspectives on important issues?

You said:

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 Yes (52%)

“Because we have centuries of evidence that stories work to raise awareness, influence attitudes and correct misinformation by repeated telling. ”

“Humans are story-telling creatures and they respond to engaging stories more than to just facts. A well-crafted story that includes the facts or the consequences thereof, can reach people and change their minds.”

“Definitely, the storytelling is a powerful tool the convince people. For example we use that tool in professional area to demonstrate and approve a point of view. I'm sure that multiplicate writing, movies, music about climate change can help change our storytelling ”

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Sometimes (16%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ No (13%)

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