Ah yes, Valentine’s Day...when love is in the air. Well, love is not the only thing in the air though. Scientists have been studying the amount of heat trapping gases in the air and asking how this will impact the production of a very special Valentine’s Day item, chocolate! Let’s dig into this sweet topic for today’s big question: How does climate change impact chocolate? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.
Hershey’s makes about 80 million chocolate “kisses” every day – nearly 29 billion a year, but where does that chocolate come from? The United States consumes nearly 18% of the world’s chocolate. Over $18 billion worth of chocolates are consumed every year right here in the USA. So, where does all that chocolate come from anyway?
Cocoa trees, or Theobroma cacao, are pretty picky in where they want to live - and not like 2 bedrooms 2 full baths and garage-picky. The trees that give us the fruit that turns into our M&Ms and Hershey’s kisses basically can only grow within 20° latitude of the equator. Chocolate trees love warm, humid tropical rainforest climates – so countries like Ghana and Indonesia alone grow over half of the world’s chocolate.
The full story of chocolate is pretty interesting in general, but the current status of chocolate production is especially fascinating to climate scientists.
Scientists around the world agree that human emissions of heat trapping gases are warming the planet up which has direct impacts on chocolate production. Climate change is a big concern for chocolate producers because of a process called evapotranspiration – or the loss of moisture through plants due to high temperatures – is increasing in these regions. As global temperatures rise, they basically squeeze water out of chocolate trees and these warming trends impact weather patterns which seem to be starving these areas of rainfall as well.
Renewable energy, reduction of consumption that involves a large carbon footprint, and other resiliency methods are a great way to begin to help the chocolate farms become more sustainable in these warming times we live in.
While Valentine’s Day may be a chance for a hot date, the chocolate industry has been seeing a lot hotter and hotter dates on the calendar and are beginning to practice new resiliency methods for the love of chocolate of course.