Bananas, avocados, and other beloved foods that may go extinct soon
When someone mentions the word "extinction," dinosaurs and dodo birds likely come to mind. The truth, however, is that some species facing the gravest and most-immediate risk are not animals but plants. Many of those plants are used to make the food that billions of people depend on for the bulk of their daily caloric intake. In other cases, the endangered plants are used to make foods that are not as crucial but just as hard to imagine never smelling, touching, or tasting ever again.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the planet's population is expected to grow by one-third by 2050, and agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet that ballooning demand. The problem is that the world's farms will have to undergo radical changes in design and strategy if they'll grow enough crops to feed all those people. That's largely because of climate change. While global warming has long been associated with melting ice and rising seas, one of the most-dangerous potential consequences is the effect a warming planet is likely to have on global food security.
"More extreme weather events and an increased unpredictability of weather patterns have already made an impact on agriculture and food security, leading to production reductions and lower incomes in vulnerable areas,” according to the IAEA.
Because of that, as well as some issues not directly related to climate change, you might be wrapping up your relationship with some of your favorite foods, even if you don't know it. As the global agriculture industry feels the heat of a changing planet, it will have to adapt to a world that is far less hospitable to the food currently on the market. From fruits, sweets, and condiments to the crops that the multitudes depend on every day to live, these foods are the ones you should want to enjoy now, as they might not be here forever.
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It's hard to imagine a world without bananas, but planet already suffered one banana extinction and may be drifting dangerously close to another. Before 1965, people ate a type of banana called Gros Michel, a different species than the bananas we know today, which was wiped out by disease. Today, a different disease called Tropical Race 4 is threatening the survival of the modern banana, which is a species called Cavendish.
The main ingredient in guacamole, avocados are among the trendiest and most popular foods in the country. More than 80% of U.S.-grown avocados come from California, which recently emerged from a series of historic droughts. Global warming is making droughts both more intense and more frequent—and it takes 74 gallons of water to grow a single pound of avocados, compared with 10.8 for tomatoes.
Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are versatile in their whole form, but when pureed, they become the delicious and dip-able hummus—for the time being, at least. Chickpeas are suffering the same fate as avocados, although they're grown mostly in the Middle East, not California. It takes a full 76 gallons of water to produce a single 15-ounce can of chickpeas.
They associate global warming with more frequent and more intense drought, storms, rain, and fires, but for even the most ardent climate change skeptics, losing chocolate might be a bridge too far. That unimaginable outcome could be a reality in 40 years. Cacao, which is the bean that makes chocolate possible, can only grow in a tiny sliver of rainforest on either side of the equator, and about half of the entire world's chocolate comes from just two countries: Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Thanks to rising temperatures, cacao's small and narrow home turf will not be able to support the bean as early as 2050.
Soybeans are one of the most-important foods in the world and one of the U.S.' biggest agricultural exports. For each day over 86 degrees Fahrenheit, however, soybean crop yields drop by 5%. Yields are expected to drop by 40% by the end of the century, according to reporting by the Independent.
There are over 50,000 species of edible plants on Earth, but just three crops make up 60% of all human caloric intake: rice, corn, and wheat. The Red List of Threatened Species, which tracks extinction risk for plants and animals, added two new species of wild wheat to the Red List in 2017. Wild wheat is crucial for long-term food security because humans use wild species to breed new traits into domestic varieties when things like disease, pests, or, in this case, climate change, threaten crops.
Like wheat, rice is also one of the Earth's big-three foods and it, too, is on the cusp of losing the genetic support of critical and necessary wild species. Also in 2017, the Red List added three species of wild rice to its tally of critically endangered species.
Although yams are not among the world's three most-important foods, they are a significant global crop—and one whose wild cousins are facing a threat greater than rice and wheat combined several times over. In 2017, 17 species of wild yams were added to the endangered Red List.
Corn, or maize, is not on the Red List, which is good news considering it's the third among the trifecta of the world's most-nutritionally important crops—and not just for people. Millions of acres of corn grown in the United States are used to feed animals, according to the USDA. The World Economic Forum reports that much of the cropland currently used to produce corn will not be suitable for growing in the coming decades because of climate change, even as experts expect demand to increase by 33%
In 2017 the Vintage News reported that Carménère, "a wine believed to be extinct for 150 years," had risen from the dead. It all started at a wine competition in 1994 when a judge thought something was off about the taste of a Chilean merlot and investigated the grape of origin. The "extinct" grape, it turns out, had just been hiding in plain sight and masquerading as common merlot. In Switzerland and other wine-producing countries, experts are scrambling to save several species of wine grapes that are nearing extinction, including the parent grape of Chardonnay and Riesling.
The veritable peanut might have only until 2030 until it follows George Washington Carver into the annals of history, according to the Huffington Post. Although they're common, peanuts are also incredibly finicky, requiring very consistent moisture levels to grow correctly. Climate change has already begun to make droughts more frequent, longer-running, and more intense, while also having the same effect on rain events. In other words, wetter wet periods and drier dry periods result in wild swings that could lead to the loss of the common peanut.
A study published in the journal Ecology revealed that America's favorite breakfast condiment might be on its way out, leaving the pancake and waffle lovers to ponder a bleak and flavorless future. As climate change creates growing seasons that are drier and warmer, the growth of sugar maples is already becoming stunted in many syrup-producing regions.
As early as the mid-2000s, the International Society for Horticultural Science was revealing the results of a study on the effect that climate change was having on strawberry crops, particularly the negative effect on crop-cycle duration. More recently in 2017, the Tampa Bay Times reported that modern strawberry farmers were scrambling to evolve as the issues with crop cycle duration had by that time reached a crisis level in some of the hardest-hit areas and that strawberry production was under environmental threat.
The factory farms that dominate the animal-agriculture industry strive to turn animals into meat products quickly and cheaply, with very little attention paid to anything else, including the welfare of the animals or the workers who kill and process them. That unfortunate business model is not confined to dry land. Global marine life has declined by 50% in the last four decades alone, with 90% of large species like tuna and swordfish already gone from the oceans, according to Spoon University. Global warming is undoubtedly damaging the oceans, but the main culprits are irresponsible fishing practices, overconsumption, and pollution—marine life depletions were first reported as far back as the 1890s.
Chemical pesticides are likely the chief culprit behind the enormous loss of bee colonies over the last years and decades, which has baffled scientists and raised an alarm across a variety of agricultural industries. The most-immediate effect is obvious: no bees, no honey. Bees are also among the most-important and prolific pollinators for a huge variety of plants, including many critical crop, and in all, bees contribute $20 billion to U.S. crop production.
Huanglongbing, or HLB for short, is a phenomenon that's more commonly called citrus greening—and orange growers in Florida know it all too well, as do their counterparts in Asia, Africa, India, and the Arabian peninsula, according to a report from the University of Florida. First discovered in 2004, the disease, which is believed to be bacterial, has devastated huge swaths of lower Florida's vast and sprawling miles of citrus trees. Currently, authorities are debating a controversial antibiotic program, which is being considered as a potential way to prevent the ultimate destruction of Florida's—and the world's—orange industry.
Maize is one of the two most-important foods in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The other is beans, and both crops are suffering dramatically from rising temperatures and too much rain, two of the most-common symptoms of climate change. According to a report from Catholic Relief Services, the situation is threatening the livelihoods of over 1 million Central American farmers and perhaps the future of both crops worldwide.
All stone fruits require some chill time in order to bear fruit but none more so than cherries. Rising temperatures are leading to too few cold nights, trees that are less likely to pollinate successfully, and trees that flower later in the season and therefore bear less fruit, according to the Guardian.
In 2018, Cooking Light reported that a worldwide vanilla shortage had created an environment where the aromatic tropical orchid was more expensive than silver—about 10 times the cost compared to just a few years earlier. Although it comes from an orchid seed native to Mexico, virtually all the world's vanilla is grown in Madagascar, which has endured volatile weather that has threatened the plant. The truth, however, is that vanilla is notoriously difficult to grow and sustain no matter the weather.
In 2014, the American eel took an unenviable spot on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as a species at very high risk for extinction. The endangered Japanese eel and critically endangered European eel were already on the list. Scientific American cited dams, parasites, fishing, and pollution as the chief causes of the world's rapidly dwindling eel populations.
There is greater demand for almonds today than ever before—Americans eat 10 times the number of almonds today than they did in 1965, and the almond recently jumped the peanut for the title of most-eaten nut, according to the Atlantic. Like avocados, almonds are largely a product of California, the only state that produces them commercially and the supplier of more than 80% of the world's almonds. Also like avocados, almonds are tremendous water hogs, requiring 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond.
Clams, particularly soft-shell clams known as steamers, are witnessing a rapid and disturbing decline in the East Coast hotspots of the industry. Maine has been the hardest hit, enduring harvests lower than they've been in nearly a century, although much of New England has suffered a significant and rapid decline of clam harvests, too. The culprit, according to a recent Associated Press report, is warming water and the multitude of related problems it brings including more algae and more predators.
The facts are clear: the more than 300 species of freshwater mussels in the U.S. are racing toward extinction, according to Scientific American. With so many species spread across such a vast system of waterways, there is no single cause to blame. Mussels play a critical role in the continent's ecosystem by filtering and purifying the water they live in.
While coffee is clearly a drink and not a food, it comes from edible beans—beans that are quickly disappearing. A full 60% of known wild coffee species are at high risk for extinction, including Arabica, the most commonly consumed coffee in the world, according to a report from Science Advances. The report cites the many adverse effects of climate change as the source of the loss.
The direct impact of climate change might soon rob from the world America's oldest maker of hot sauces: Tabasco. For a century and a half, the McIlhenny family has manufactured the world-famous American original on Louisiana's Avery Island, a geological salt dome that isn't really an island at all but appears to be because of all the surrounding swamps and bayou. Thanks mostly to climate change, Avery Island is disappearing as the protective marsh that surrounds it loses 30 feet per year and salt water pours into land that stood 163 feet above sea level when the facility was first built.