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Reflections In A Cup: Coffee and the Church of the Warming Globe

Coffee and the Church of the Warming Globe

April 1, 2008
By Stuart Daw


The coffee business does not live in a vacuum (pardon the expression).
Some things happening in the world around us can have a major impact on
our lives, personal and corporate.

The coffee business does not live in a vacuum (pardon the expression). Some things happening in the world around us can have a major impact on our lives, personal and corporate.

One such movement that will be having a profound effect is what has become known as global warming, and by some others, more cynically, as the Church of the Warming Globe. These latter people act as though the whole issue is funny, and it might be, except that it is being taken seriously by people who are not funny at all – many politicians, the UN, and most of the major media. That makes it dangerous, for even if it weren’t true it provides them with yet another way to increase government control over our lives. And yet, if they are right, we simply can’t ignore the possible consequences.
Is it fair to ask with what degree of certainty one should believe what one hears on either side of this hotly debated issue? We must be sure, for the future of Western civilization hangs in the balance. Communism has lost its credibility after a century of countless attempts and untold human suffering, but some elements in society are undoubtedly still anxious to find another way to increase the power of the state over the freedom of the individual.

And it might be useful to recall other instances when masses of people latched onto an idea, only to find it simply wasn’t true. So in our own attitudes toward new concepts, do we follow the various gradations of knowledge, as in: Is it possible to happen, given what I know now? Is it likely to happen? Am I reasonably sure it will happen? Am I certain, based on all the irrefutable evidence that it will happen?


History has been rife with instances of large ideas that were embraced by entire peoples, only to be proven false. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the German mathematician and astro-nomer who discovered the laws of interplanetary motion (elliptical, as opposed to circular orbits), defied the conventional wisdom of his day and proved it wrong.

His contemporary, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher, was imprisoned by the church for the heresy of saying the world was round, defying the “settled science” of the time.

And so, in the case of a serious question arising that affects our lives in any major way, we owe it to ourselves and the social system in which we live to ask the right questions before forming a fixed opinion. And we need to be wary of those spreading fear as a tool to further personal goals.

So we should be careful in accepting not just the usual frightening predictions of mass flooding and wild, unpredictable storms and crop failures, with people starving in the streets, for there are many other, seemingly disconnected ideas emanating from this trend.

The very day of this writing, entertainer Sheryl Crow has decreed that we all must restrict ourselves to just one little square of toilet paper per lavatory visit, without informing us as to just how this is to be policed.

Another element in society warns us that bees are becoming extinct, and that without bees to pollinate plants, there will be no plants and no food. Still another, immediately following a story about bananas being a wonderful element in the human diet, says that bananas will be extinct by 2013, because there is only one strain, that strain is dying, and science has been unable to generate another one.

Ironically and unfortunately, just one of the unintended consequences of all this is that the Third World, which stood to be the main beneficiary of future industrial growth, and from which we get the coffee we love, will likely suffer the most from the unevenly applied regulations demanded by the New Church of the Warming Globe.

A coffee trade magazine is hardly the place to hold forth on the myriad complexities of this issue. Sufficient to say, it does not represent “settled science.” It is not aeronautics, where a rocket to the moon can be launched with great precision, based on a truly settled science. Climatology has yet to accurately predict the weather for next Tuesday, never mind 50 years from now. Empirical evidence shows the world has been much warmer than it is today and much colder too, and a one degree Celsius change over the past century is hardly a cause for panic.

You might ask, “What has all this to do with coffee?”  You can’t separate the coffee business from the rest of the social system. Goodness knows what weird regulations might come forward impacting it. Coffee roasting takes energy. And think of the energy needed to bring coffee from origin to Canada, and of the electricity needed for brewing it. And all this at the subjective whim of people with the power to shut down or limit any industry they so wish.

And we should try to influence the pragmatic business people who capitalize on this kind of thing to line their collective pockets, while saying to heck with the long-range consequences. Just one recent case is Folgers, introducing a “stomach friendly” coffee, meaning coffee with lower acidity.

Strangely enough, they have been selling coffee for many decades already relatively low in acidity, i.e. robustas and (unwashed) naturals as opposed to high grown washed arabicas. In other words, high grown coffee with a higher acidity makes the better cup. Besides, there is some doubt as to whether coffee really has a negative effect on the tummy anyway (I stand proudly as an inveterate coffee lover with a rather used, but sound, stomach).

Coffee is the drink of the optimist, the winner, the realist who knows that happiness is the proper condition for human beings right here on earth. Should we allow ourselves to be “Gored” by those who may try to undermine it, and the rest of world around us? I would welcome hearing personal opinions on this issue from those in the trade.