What We Mean When We Say Coffee Might Go Extinct

The headlines make your blood run cold: coffee? In danger of extinction? That can't be true. We need coffee — to stay sharp, to make it through the day, for world peace. But the headlines keep coming.

One new study may clarify what they actually mean. Scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, or CIAT, have just released research about the status of some of our most ubiquitous plants and their products. Things like Christmas trees, chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon are widely available, thanks to farming. However, the wild versions of those trees and plants aren't well protected. If we lose out on wild-type biodiversity, our crops are in huge trouble.

CIAT rated 7,000 species worldwide on conservation status by location. Just 3 percent were found to be "sufficiently conserved." This includes both in outdoor areas like wildlife preserves and parks, and indoor areas like seed banks. Climate change threatens the former, as temperatures and rainfall can rapidly shift where and whether these plants can grow and thrive. As for seed banks, they haven't caught up to the field's needs.

If every coffee plant in the wild went extinct, we would most likely still have coffee. But aside from apocalyptic pricing due to scarcity, we'd lose out on biodiversity, reducing both the plants' ability to fight off disease and the possibility of finding interesting new strains. The United States and Canada are lagging behind all of Africa, northern South America, and Northern Europe in conservation. If you care about your cup of joe, it might be worth bothering your elected officials to push for better conservation planning.