Ben & Jerry’s Flavors We May Lose to Climate Change

March 16, 2015

Climate change is causing havoc in weather systems around our world, as evidenced by record temperature swings last year. We’re concerned about this for a number of reasons, including the effect that climate change is already having on food production around the world.

Farmers plant, grow and harvest based on, more or less, consistent and predictable weather— but if we don’t curb carbon emissions the new normal will become intensified rains and prolonged droughts that can ruin a whole season’s crops. Here are 3 Ben & Jerry’s ingredients that are in climate change’s crosshairs, putting the flavors that use those ingredients on the “Endangered Pints List.” 



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Cocoa, aka Chocolate:

From Phish Food to Chocolate Fudge Brownie, chocolate is the foundation of many Ben & Jerry’s flavors. A study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture points out that an increase of 2.3 degrees Celsius in West Africa by 2050 would make the region too warm to grow cocoa. A recent Earth Security Index report showed that unsustainable farming practices over the past 4 decades have already taken a bite out of 40% of land available for cocoa crops. Climate change is putting pressure on this shaky production model by exacerbating droughts worldwide. Farmers dependent on this crop for their survival are turning to more resilient plants, or just giving up cocoa overall. What happens in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire— which account for around 60% of the world’s chocolate production alone— may spell chocolate disaster for ice cream everywhere. 



From walnuts to pistachios, the nutty texture of flavors like Chunky Monkey are facing a serious, ahem, crunch. It turns out that nut trees adapted to temperate regions require a winter chill to stimulate spring growth. That sort of weather is looking like it will be in short supply with the intensifying temperatures in key nut growing regions including California, southeastern U.S., China and Australia. Already, the loss of winter chill has hit nut crops in Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and the Cape region of South Africa. Tree crops, unlike ground crops, take a lot longer to plant and reach maturity, making it relatively impossible to relocate when the weather changes. It won’t be adaptation, it’ll be starting over. That’s a tough nut to crack.

Those spiking temperatures are also causing problems for the humble, if totally misnamed, legume that’s critical for flavors like Peanut Butter Cup. We count on peanut butter for its consistently smooth texture, but the peanut plant itself is fickle, requiring consistent temps and just the right amount of rainfall to flourish. A severe southwest dry out in 2011 shriveled the year’s U.S. crop, sending prices shooting up 40%. Unfortunately, the 2013 National Climate Assessment from the U.S. Global Change Research Program predicts that climate change will lead to hotter and drier summers for the southern states that are the main peanut producers in the U.S. Gnarly price increases could make peanut butter an elite delicacy.



Getting out the door in the morning without a cup of coffee just seems crazy, but a reality with limited espresso— and no flavors like Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz— is already shaping up. Because this plant is adapted to specific climate zones, just ½ degree warming of temperature can stunt the global coffee crop. The scary part is that we are well on our way to exceed that level of warming. Too much moisture is also bad, and the recent uptick in unseasonable and extreme rainfall events has seen Indian growers’ crop decline by nearly 30% between 2002 and 2011. As with many crops, climate change has also increased the range of critical coffee pests, including the coffee berry borer. The result as a whole is devastating, with one study predicting the number of pre-existing regions suitable for growing coffee to shrink anywhere from 65–100% by 2080. As the Union of Concerned Scientists puts it, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Will these ingredients disappear? We certainly hope not. Join us in putting a stop to climate change and protecting these flavors from the "Endangered Pints List."