General Question

christybird's avatar

Is high coffee consumption REALLY so bad for the environment?

Asked by christybird (813points) October 5th, 2007

So I recently played American Public Media’s “Consumer Consequences” online game,, and it told me that my one cup of coffee per day consumption is really horrible for the environment. Is coffee really so bad? If so, are all coffees bad, even the “fair trade, shade grown, organic” kinds that are available?

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6 Answers

bpeoples's avatar

shade grown simply means that it was grown, well, in the shade. It’s sort of like “free range” (for various values of “free”).

Here’s what wikipedia has to say (and largely sums up what I was going to say, but more concisely):

Some are concerned about ecological issues with coffee cultivation. Originally, coffee farming was done in the shade of trees, which provided habitat for many animals and insects.[27] Using sun cultivation, coffee is grown in rows under full sun, with little or no forest canopy. This causes berries to ripen more rapidly and bushes to produce higher yields, but requires the clearing of trees and increased use of fertilizer and pesticides.[28] Opponents of sun cultivation say environmental problems such as deforestation, pesticide pollution, habitat destruction, and soil and water degradation are the side effects of these practices.[27] The American Birding Association has led a campaign for “shade-grown” and organic coffees, which it says are sustainably harvested.[29] While certain types of shaded coffee cultivation systems show greater biodiversity than full-sun systems, they still compare poorly to native forest in terms of habitat value,[30] and some researchers are concerned that the push for “shade grown” coffee may actually be encouraging deforestation in ecologically sensitive regions.[31] (under Cultivation)

bob's avatar

Eating food—even organic food—is the same way.

christybird's avatar

What do you mean, Bob?

bob's avatar

Our food isn’t shade-grown, and even if it were, the shade-grown food wouldn’t be part of a natural habitat with full biodiversity. Growing coffee is the same way; it doesn’t seem more or less harmful than eating food, except that it might be transported from farther away.

Our farmland in the US has already been deforested, so we don’t need to deforest it any further, but growing coffee is essentially similar to growing turnips. So I don’t see that drinking coffee is more or less harmful than eating a banana.

occ's avatar

The other problem with being a coffee drinker in the U.S. is that your coffee needs to be transported from far away to reach your local coffee shop…and the transportation takes up a lot of fossil fuels.
But you shouldn’t feel too guilty about it. It’s important not to get bogged down in guilt about small lifestyle choices. If coffee makes you happy and awake and energized, drink it if you want to—and use that energy to help the environment in other ways. Write to your legislators, write to companies and ask them to provide more eco-friendly choices, join a local enviro group, etc. I don’t mean to belittle lifestyle choices—I’m saying this as someone who works full time for an enviro group. Yes, every choice matters, but it’s important for people to realize that bigger choices (what you drive, how big your house is, and—biggest of all—who you vote for) are the ones that really make a difference.

delirium's avatar

That’s not the only problem. Coffee is a HUGE water suck.

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