In case there are those of you out there who wonder why an online tea company like Arbor Teas is so zealous about our environmental performance (and our impact on global warming), a recent article in Fresh Cup Magazine (one of the primary journals of the tea and coffee industry) just connected all of the dots for you. While we at Arbor Teas believe that running our business in a sustainable fashion is just the “right thing to do,” the Fresh Cup article points to a more potentially self-serving motivation. Early evidence (such as that identified by the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes, or the IPCC) suggests that the effects of global warming are likely to have very serious impacts on the world’s ability to keep growing great tea (not to mention a long list of other agricultural products). While it’s not as though tea production will come to a screeching halt tomorrow, this certainly isn’t good news.
Global Warming’s Impact on Tea-Growing Regions
There is a substantial and growing body of evidence supporting the fact that atmospheric temperatures are on the rise worldwide. Unfortunately, a majority of the available data is skewed toward developed nations. Since much of the world’s tea production takes place in the developing world, there is less scientific data to evaluate when considering global warming’s potential impacts. However, anecdotal evidence from growers suggests that the tea-growing world is experiencing the same climate trends as have been identified by scientists elsewhere.
From practically all corners of the tea-producing world, tea growers are reporting a variety of climate-related hardships of growing frequency and intensity that are impacting their ability to produce quality tea. Here are a few examples:
- Drought in China leaving low-lying plants covered in dust, blocking crucial sunshine;
- Intense rainfall contributing to erosion of slopes and loss of plantings in India;
- Unprecedented frost in Rwanda, causing loss of 70% of leaves;
- Erratic rainfall in Kenya, with drought occurring twice as frequently;
- Higher temperatures in China contributing to increased pest populations.
And the news doesn’t get much better should global warming continue to advance. The most recent report of the IPCC identifies a long list of other likely impacts of global climate change, many of which will most certainly impact the tea industry. These include:
- Enlargement of glacial lakes (reducing growing area),
- Increasing ground instability in permafrost regions and rock avalanches in mountain regions,
- Earlier and increased runoff in glacial- and snow-fed rivers and streams,
- Warming of lakes and rivers,
- Loss of species diversity (some of which are natural predators of pests),
- Reduction in agricultural production in dry and tropic regions (with even small temperature increases).
Clearly, any of the events described above would put a serious damper on tea production (whether it be through loss of tea bushes, reduced arable land, lower quality of manufactured leaves, etc.). But in addition to all of this, simple increases in temperature can have further impacts on tea growing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to the serious farmers or gardeners out there, but the growth and development of tea plants are genetically linked to certain times of year and weather conditions, which are often triggered by changes in temperature. Increased temperatures can cause new leaves to sprout too early, only to be damaged by early morning frosts.
To make matters worse, decreases in productivity that may be attributable to climate change often force planters to cut down or burn forested areas to make way for additional tea fields, which only stands to exacerbate the climate change problem.
What Global Warming Will Mean For Tea Lovers
Some countries (Japan in particular) have begun devising plans to address the challenges of tea production in the face of climate change. And while Japan may actually have the resources and technological wherewithal to adapt their tea growing industry to a warmer climate, the same may not be said for other locales. At the end of the day, continued global warming will make growing quality teas harder and more expensive. Both the quality and quantity of production will be reduced (or at least become more erratic), and – thanks to our friend the supply-and-demand curve – this will mean higher tea prices for the consumer. If you can get it at all.
Sorry to paint such a bleak picture of the potential future of the tea industry, but knowledge is power, right? This doesn’t have to be our fate, fellow tea lovers! Global warming is an urgent, but solvable problem. That’s why Arbor Teas recently joined the We Campaign, a nonpartisan movement of concerned citizens that was founded by Nobel Prize Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore. The We Campaign is working to ensure that elected leaders make the climate crisis a priority. We encourage you to visit www.wecansolveit.org, where you can learn more about solutions to global warming, take action steps and even find climate change-related events happening in your community. Although it’s not too late, global warming is very serious and there is no time to lose.
Incidentally, you should also continue to shop for organic tea at Arbor Teas, the web’s most sustainable tea shop. Every little bit helps, right?
August 25 2008 01:32 pm | Sustainability