I was hoping to start 2018 off with a positive blog, like some of my colleagues, but then I glanced at my feeds and saw ‘chocolate extinction’ all over them.
Apparently, news broke over the new year that chocolate was going to go extinct in mere decades, as climate change threatens the survival of cacao trees. This sounded like something people would want to know about, so I clicked around on headlines like “Now Chocolate Could Go Extinct, Fabulous” to see what the story was. The only good news? This is basically fake news—and old fake news at that.
The BI story, which ran with the headline “Chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 years” appeared to rely on a two-year-old NOAA story for any scientific substantiation of the claim. That story, however, doesn’t even mention extinction, with the authors of the cited report saying 40 years was actually enough time for adaptation to many climactic challenges.
So, why was this making the rounds now? Was it just because in 2018 the internet is still as hungry as ever for hot takes and chocolate?
Clearly the future of our food production, and how climate change will impact it, is a serious question. But by regurgitating poorly-sourced stories, we aren’t doing anyone any favors. In fact, doing so gives unnecessary talking points to naysayers, and generally muddies the discussion, which is precisely what climate change deniers like EPA chief Scott Pruitt are trying to do.
Do we really want to do Scott Pruitt any favors? It’s actually one of my resolutions not to.
Perhaps chocolate production is going to hit a climate change-precipitated wall in few decades. The NOAA report does say that temperatures in chocolate-growing regions are expected to continue rising, leading to a reduction in suitable cacao cultivation areas. It’s something that should clearly continue to be studied. But let’s wait for more solid information before we work ourselves into a frenzy over the possibility of extinction.
There’s also room for more in-depth looks at how the economics, production, and development of chocolate are already changing, and how the treat could skyrocket in price as demand starts vastly outstripping supply. More than just taste buds, countless livelihoods are at stake.
The Business Insider story did make some good points. For instance, it noted that cacao plants can only grow within narrow strip of rainforested land around the equator, and over half the world’s chocolate now comes from just two West African countries— Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. This extreme geographic concentration elevates the risk of the fast-spreading diseases that really do threaten cultivated cacao plants en masse.
Now that I got that off my chest, back to the real crisis—climate change ruining wine.