Bye bye chocolate?

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet series

By Ginny Colling

Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.

No more heart-shaped boxes of chocolates?  No more heartwarming hot cocoa?

No more daily row of a chocolate bar for this chocolate addict? Yikes!

But that’s one looming outcome as our climate thermostat cranks higher and higher. Chocolate may face production shortages because of the climate crisis and unsustainable practices.

“In 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it,” says John Mason of the Nature Conservation Resource Centre. The organization is recognized internationally for sustainable economic development in poor rural areas of Ghana and other nations in West Africa.

Cacao trees grow in the tropics and like humidity. But higher temperatures mean lower humidity — bad news for my favorite bean.

Growers are fighting back. In some areas they plant cocoa trees in rainforests while others are also adopting climate-smart agriculture practices like ditching synthetic fertilizers for organic compost, applying natural pesticides, and improving soil quality by planting cover crops. All this to hang on to their farms while fighting the climate crisis.

In the meantime, researchers are developing more drought- and heat-tolerant cocoa beans. And there’s another key player you might not think of right away:  palm oil, an industry that is slowly changing its climate-destroying ways.

What’s palm oil got to do with it? Palm oil is found in half the products we buy, from lipsticks to soaps, cookies, instant noodles and, yes, chocolate. Not to be confused with coconut oil (from a different tree), palm oil demand has exploded in recent decades, with serious climate heating consequences. Rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia are bulldozed or burned to make way for oil palm plantations, releasing alarming amounts of carbon dioxide and causing serious habitat destruction. That’s had dire consequences for orangutan, elephant and tiger populations.

In 2004 the industry set up the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to tackle the deforestation, human rights abuses and climate devastation of these practices.  It set global standards and certification for sustainably produced palm oil, though critics say enforcement is weak. 

After 18 years, only 19 per cent of palm oil production is certified, according to RSPO figures. Many big-name companies are still not using sustainable palm.

What can we do?

  1. Check out online ratings like the World Wildlife Fund’s palm oil scorecard. For instance, it gives the company Ferrero one of its highest rankings — 21.7 out of 24. Want to go further? Call or email a company directly to see if it use RSPO certified palm oil. When we do that, at least they’ll know we’re paying attention.
  1. Read food labels. If, like me, you don’t want to contribute to this climate devastation, avoid buying products that list palm as an ingredient, as in palm kernel oil, palmate, or palmitic acid. Less obvious are palm derivatives like sodium lauryl sulfate, and glyceryl stearate.
  1. Donate to groups like the Rainforest Action Network and the World Wildlife Fund that monitor work in this area.

Closer to home, we can ask small chocolatiers if they use palm oil. Owner Elaine Webster says there’s none in the solid or plain chocolates produced at the Chocolate Rabbit in nearby Lakefield.  

For me, sitting back and watching the demise of chocolate is not an option. As my favorite T-shirt slogan says: “Save the Earth. It’s the only planet with chocolate.”

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