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An inconvenient milestone

As this issue was going to press, sobering news came across the wires. The Earth, it seems, has passed a milestone. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have reached an average daily level of 400 parts per million, the highest ever experienced by humans and the highest Earth has seen in three millions years.

Carbon dioxide, of course, is the most impactful heat-trapping gas, and its man-made profusion since the Industrial Age has driven the steady uptick in global temperatures, leading to catastrophic weather patterns.

Every operator should be concerned, not just as a resident of the planet, but as a business owner.

The impact to restaurants can be very tangible, as New York City restaurants learned in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Consensus among climate scientists is that global warming made the hurricane stronger: higher sea levels, higher sea surface temperatures and an unusual high-pressure system above Greenland all contributed to the hurricane’s strength and have all been linked to global warming.

But more widespread impacts to the industry are being and will continue to be felt in the supply chain.

“If you drink beer now, the issue of climate change is impacting you right now.” That was sustainability director Jenn Orgolini of New Belgian Brewery, one of the largest craft brewers in the country, following weather-related impacts to barley and hop production in 2011.

Beer isn’t the only beverage being impacted. In April, a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated that wine-growing acreage in California could shrink by as much as 70 percent by 2050, due to climate change. Other wine-producing regions in Chile and Australia are expected to see declines as well.

Tropical, coffee-growing regions are currently fighting a fungus that attacks the beans and that has found warming conditions in the areas to its liking. Starbucks has purchased its own research farm to study global warming’s impacts.

“The threats climate change pose isn’t a surprise to us,” Starbucks spokesperson Haley Drage told U.S. News and World Report. “We’ve been working on this for more than 10 years and it’s something we continue to work with farmers on.”

Bourbon, maple syrup, chocolate, oysters: producers are ringing the alarm bells that climate change is already being felt.

It’s difficult not to be pessimistic about our ability to address the enormity of the problem, and it’s quite possibly too late. We can say with some certainty that we are looking at a much different planet in our future and a much different supply chain.

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