Friday, November 2, 2007

Tea & Global Warming

I know I normally end the week with a positive note, but... not this week. Today I'd like to talk about how global warming is changing the world of tea. This approach may sound somewhat trivial, but I feel that narrowing your focus can allow you to see the potential impact of such a large problem much more clearly. It's an important issue and, maybe, you can take some small steps toward reducing your own carbon footprint with a little effort over the weekend.

Tea and Global Warming

Sri Lankan tea growers are dealing with extreme weather conditions, such as abnormally heavy monsoons, which are causing the deaths of large numbers of young tea plants. Droughts and floods are expected, as are problems with inequity between rice farmers (who work as family units on small farms) and tea workers (who are assured of set wages despite occasional low selling prices).

Erosion and landslides due to heavy rains are already major problems in the areas of Darjeeling I visited this summer. According to Rajah Banerjee of Makaibari Tea Estate, the seasons are becoming unpredictable in terms of temperature (stiflingly hot when it should be warm) and rainfall (torrential when it should be drizzling), which stymies tea growth. Invasive pests such as mosquitoes have appeared with the change in climate. Increased mortality rates due to pest-related disease and landslides have decreased worker morale. Very soon, Indian tea producers in Assam and Darjeeling are going to have to figure out what happens when the glacial runoff from the Himalayas dries up. Some are predicting civil war, which makes sense given the already brittle political situation in Assam. All the obvious consequences of this potential tragedy aside, tea would surely take the back burner at best in these circumstances.

Kenya (one of the world's largest tea producers) suffered a major drought last year that caused its tea production to drop by 19%, in a record-setting decline. It is estimated that id the average world temperature rises by as little as 2 degrees C, then large areas of Kenya's tea-growing region will no longer be able to produce tea. Tea comprises about 1/4 of Kenya's current export earnings, and is, at present, essential to the economic growth of this fragile developing nation.

Meanwhile, one of the few tea plantations in the US is in the middle of a major drought. So much for buying local.

The change in climate has caused the beginning of harvest for first flush teas in China to shift from March 10th (when it has begun for hundreds of years) to March 5th, but that's about it. This means that (as the world's top tea exporter) China would actually BENEFIT (financially) from global warming's damage to other tea exporting nations. Not much of an impetus to ratify the Kyoto Protocol...

Of course, England is LOVING the climate change. Hey, at least they can decrease their carbon footprint by buying tea locally. Too bad it had to some to this before most people even knew what a carbon footprint is.

Soon other countries, including Canada, may have increased food production due to climate change. Right in line with Jared Diamond's brilliant Guns, Germs, and Steel, most of the countries that will be hit the hardest are the ones that are already struggling financially. Could those happen to, oh, I don't know... be some of the same ones tht have low enough labor costs to make tea production profitable? Hmm...

And, of course, some of the major tea companies are getting into the game. Lipton came up with this as a quick fix for a Romanian heat wave (brought on by global warming, no doubt). Gee, that's a long-term solution.

In better news, organic tea production is on the rise in India and elsewhere. Still feeling depressed? Read this article on how to "green" your tea and then follow these simple steps for making your life greener. When you're done making all the immediate changes you can, have a nice cup of tea, and then keep making daily decisions with the environment in mind. I promise you'll feel much better.

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