Valentine’s Day is about the truest of loves—chocolate! As you reach for that box of bonbons in the heart-shaped red velvet box or your favorite chocolate bar, it’s worth considering the future of chocolate, and more specifically cacao beans, in a warming world. The effect of climate change on cocoa is not like a box of chocolates, we pretty much know what we’re gonna get.
Climate change will impact cocoa
The not-so-great news… climate change will affect the regions where the cocoa beans, the main ingredient used to make chocolates of all flavors, grow. Cocoa beans are harvested from cacao trees, which grow in hot, humid tropical climates within 20 degrees north and south of the equator. For reference, the southernmost tip of Florida is located 24 degrees north of the equator. Climate modeling shows many parts of these regions will continue to get hotter over the coming decades, and rainfall will not increase proportionately. These tropical environments will get hotter, but they won’t be as humid, which is a necessary condition for growing cacao. Other tropical regions may get more humid, but not as hot, which could breed cacao pests and diseases. The good news is that whether by planting drought-resistant cacao breeds, or re-foresting rainforests decimated by industrial development, communities growing cacao and agricultural scientists are working on strategies for adapting to climate change!
But as we contemplate our desire for chocolate, it important to understand that climate justice fundamentally lies at the intersections of ecological and social systems. As cocoa farmers and distributors face changing environments, these challenges exacerbate—and are exacerbated by—existing injustices in the cocoa industry. The chocolate industry is worth more than $80 billion and forced and child labor practices are rampant. Furthermore, profits from unjust practices in the cocoa industry have ties to Florida. Cocoa is an important facet of the multinational Nestle corporation, a major food and beverage conglomerate that has been widely criticized for water extraction practices in Florida’s springs.
Chocolate Lovers, unite over climate-just cocoa!
We can participate in building a more just future for chocolate production by supporting the fight for climate justice in the cocoa industry. This means we can critically examine the sources of the chocolate we consume, recognizing the best chocolate choice is sourced from cocoa grown in fair labor conditions and by local workers with ownership over the resource and production process. Look at the labels and search for Fair Trade and other organization endorsements that support social justice and environmental concerns. Ultimately, we can take a bite of sweet justice by raising awareness of, and fighting for, just cocoa-growing and labor practices!