How do you plan on enjoying your old age? I've always hoped for a future that involves wine, coffee, and lots and lots of chocolate. Unfortunately, that might not be possible for many of us, because climate change is affecting the earth's food producers, and a lot of those favorite foods could be gone in our lifetimes. In the case of chocolate in particular, scientists say chocolate as we know it is on track to be extinct as early as 2050.
According to research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cacao is an extremely difficult plant to cultivate. It only grows within a narrow strip about 20 degrees on each side of the equator, and most of it is grown within 10 degrees of the equator. That's a very specific climate. Cacao plants know what they like; they require uniform temperatures, lots of rain and humidity, nitrogen-rich soil, shade, and they must have protection from wind. More than half the world's chocolate currently comes from rainforests in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana in West Africa.
But climate change is altering the environment, and scientists from NOAA say in a "business as usual" scenario, rising temperatures would push the cacao-friendly conditions north into the mountains into areas that are either not suitable for growing cacao, or that are already wildlife preserves and thus not available for farming.
Of course, the world's candy companies want to keep chocolate around even more than we do, and according to The Independent, Mars is investing a ton of money into research and gene-editing technology with the University of California to make genetically modified cacao plants that can survive in the new environment. Clearly the company that makes Snickers and M&Ms doesn't want to see chocolate go extinct either.
According to NOAA, other potential solutions include experiments with selectively bred cacao seeds, or adapting cultivation methods to protect the trees as they grow. It's not clear what the solution could be yet, but at least people are looking for one. The extinction of chocolate would be terrible for the world, but the researchers at NOAA say there could still be time to save it.