• Daniel Mollenkamp

Has Trump 'Ended' Coffee?

In a little article for Fortune, Mike Hoffmann of Cornell University suggests that the decision to leave the Paris Accord could, in addition to everything else, bring an “end” to American coffee.

How accurate is this assessment?

According to Hoffmann, two weakness leave coffee vulnerable: (1) the climate sensitivity of coffee crops, and (2) the coffee borer, a vicious little beetle which seems to thrive in changing climates.

Trump’s decision to leave, Hoffmann seems to be suggesting, will leave us on our current trajectory, meaning that “the potential for temperatures to increase in the next few decades could reduce the global area suitable for production of coffee by as much as half by 2050.”

Hoffmann’s specifics are on point here: climate change will certainly affect the coffee industry, Trump’s decision was bad, etc. But the broader context around Hoffmann’s article makes his argument, and his specific connection between this one decision and coffee crops, specious.

For one thing, Hoffmann presumes too many things. He presumes the net effect of the Paris Accord, seemingly on its own, would make the difference in climate change. This seems dubious at best, keeping in mind I don’t hold the credentials that Hoffmann does on this subject. Hoffmann presumes to isolate a single bad political decision and throw the weight of a forecasted calamity on that decision. He’s making a general connection, not a specific prediction. So, then we’d have to rephrase his comments to say that the decision just wasn’t good for coffee (or food production, generally) in the long run. What are we really saying there? Only that climate change could be bad for crops. Well, we knew that already.

Perhaps his comments should be viewed as a prediction, an example of environmental forecasting. Even there, he falls short. Bad as it was to withdraw from the international attempt to combat climate change, the impact of this particular decision remains somewhat unclear, certainly too unclear to make a comment of that kind.

Well, then it’s junk as a hypothesis. We’ve reduced his article to one line, really: “the potential for temperatures to increase in the next few decades could reduce the global area suitable for production of coffee by as much as half by 2050.”

Hoffman might as well have said Clinton ended coffee by refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. But coffee remains a prominent commodity in 2017, by Hoffmann’s own admission. So then the comment would not have added anything to the conversation then, nor does it now. Perhaps he should have just said it in a tweet.

In assessing climate change it seems that the preponderance of decisions matters more than a single event. But more than that, hand-wringing won’t get you anywhere. Nor does making a general call for solutions or leadership. What is needed, I’d say fairly obviously, is specific proposals.

Photo used under creative commons license. Photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey

Original: https://caffeineconfessions.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/has-trump-ended-coffee/

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