Tea is a precise curation of Nature. Numerous environmental factors play a major role in the growth of this plant, the nourishment it carries, and how good or bad shall it taste. Being a seasonal entity, tea bushes are planted in the soil to last for decades and the same bush is cultivated across various seasons, yielding seasonal flushes, something that makes the hearts of tea lovers skip a beat !
From the amount of rainfall the slopes receive, the humidity in the air, the type and health of the soil, the elevation of the tea garden, the duration of sunlight received by the plants, and the temperature - all these factors and more influence the yield. This is also the reason why the tea from different regions have a distinct taste and have a unique character.
Thanks to this prized plant and the natural forces at play, millions of people around the world make a livelihood tending and yielding this plant. For instance, the Indian Tea industry is the second largest producer of tea in the world, responsible for 35-40% of the global production. But, it also happens to be the second largest employer of organized labor in the country of 1.2 billion people. Hence, one can imagine the scale of employment that is attached to this industry.
But soon, all this is about to take a turn for the worse if we don’t take a stand together and act upon the impending crisis that the global tea industry faces today. Why you ask? The answer is rapid Climate Change.
What is Climate Change ?
Climate Change, a term that has been significant for scientific communities for decades, has taken precedence in the larger community in recent times, Climate change is a phenomenon which refers to serious, long-term changes in the global climate.
The foremost cause of this global climate change is ‘Global Warming’. This is caused by Earth’s greenhouse effect. Normally, this greenhouse effect is where earth retains a proportion of the sun’s heat, an importance resource to maintain favorable conditions on the planet for all life to flourish.
But due to a variety of mankind’s exploitative activities over the centuries, this greenhouse effect has been maximized considerably, trapping more and more of the sun’s heat. This has led to a steady rise in the planet’s temperature, causing it to heat up. The immediate problem is that the rate of this ‘rise in temperature’ has picked up a terrifying pace - causing a domino-effect in giving rise to catastrophic natural events across the globe.
Causes of Global Warming
Increase in Greenhouse emissions across the world.
Mass Deforestation & Destruction of crucial rain forests across the world.
A steady rise in Global Populations.
Polluting of Oceans & Destroying Marine ecosystems.
Consequences of Climate Change
Global climate change is gradually unlocking a series of devastating consequences, the foremost of which is gravely endangering the earth’s sustainable ecosystem, of which we humans are also an integral part. The list of some observed and predicted climate change impacts include :-
1. Melting of Ice Poles, Rise in Global Sea Levels.
The increasing amounts of the sun’s trapped heat on earth has led to the melting of the ice at the poles. This increases sea levels across the world and if not checked, it will lead to major coastal cities and islands to be completely submerged below water. In the last 100 years, our sea levels have risen by 8 inches and is expected to rise increasingly.
A visualization tool made by NASA helps us to witness of loss of the planet’s perennial ice cover. You can view the loss of this ice cover, starting from 1979 to present year. To view this, click here.
2. Extreme Weather Patterns Across the Globe
As the amount of heat trapped on earth rises, the air gets warmer. This warm air can hold much more vapor. Studies say that for each degree of global warming, the capacity of the warm air to carry water vapor increases by 7 % . More vapor-laden air means abnormal precipitation, giving rise to intense rain bursts, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and also powerful floods. A lot more communities will be affected in the time to come because of such intense weather patterns, giving rise to mass migrations, rising death tolls etc.
3. Destruction of Marine Ecosystem & Aquatic Species
With too much CO2 in the atmosphere, oceans will have to absorb for carbon dioxide leading to changes in the temperature of the seas. This impacts the entire marine ecosystem, which will lead to extinction of many species, coral reefs dying, migration of aquatic species to other seas where the marine atmosphere is suited for their survival.
The photograph below shows dying coral reefs, compared against when they were a healthy reef supporting a wide variety of aquatic species.
4. Changes in Ecosystem, Increase Loss of Flora & Fauna
Life of the land will also be severely impacted as there will be significant changes in the overall ecosystem of the earth. While several regions experience intense floods due to erratic weather patterns, dry and arid regions will get drier, turning into deserts. This will lead to the loss of the region’s flora and fauna. Animal species will be forced to migrate over long distances, leading to the extinction of many.
Already, such changes contribute to the loss of 10,000-40,000 species every single year.
HOW DOES CLIMATE CHANGE
AFFECT MY TEA ?
The tea plant is extremely sensitive to slight changes in the environmental parameters that contribute to its growth and overall character. Already, several studies and observations show the effects of changes in precipitation levels and rising temperature on the overall tea yield of a region and also the nutrients that the tea carries. These are the following ways tea cultivation is affected by global climate change :-
QUANTITY OF YIELD
Changes in the global climate can result in significant shifts in the natural forces which are crucial to a good yield. These shifts include changes in the amount of rainfall/ precipitation, rising temperatures , delayed or early onset of seasons , etc.
One of the prime examples of this is a scientific survey done in Assam in the year 2018, which included 88% of tea estate managers and 97% of small, independent estate holders. A majority agreed with the fact that climate change in Assam has severely affected tea production in the region. As compared to the last decade, there have been erratic patterns of rainfall here. There is no consistency in the rainfall and no overall increase in annual precipitation. Drought-like conditions and sudden heavy downpours do more harm to the plants than good, as it water logs the soil and erodes it, causing the roots to rot. This has led to poor yields from many tea gardens in Assam.
Also the shift in seasons mean a shorter time for the plants to grow, leading to reduced seasonal yields of the first and second flush teas, which are the most important harvest periods for the farmers.
Reference study : https://bit.ly/2Wq2FJt
QUALITY OF YIELD
With the rise in temperatures, the quality of tea being harvested is also negatively impacted. Rise in temperatures in tea-producing regions have resulted in poor yields. There are more frequent hot spells which affect the quality of yields. Also hotter temperatures lead to more bugs and insects coming out and feasting on the tea leaves for their survival. Most of the plantations in Assam have noticed a surge in these insects and bugs.
LOSS OF ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS
Tea is consumed worldwide and is the second most popular beverage because of its flavor, but more important owing to its nutrient content. Tea has an abundance of antioxidants, which can work wonders on our overall health. Antioxidants help in strengthening our overall health by neutralizing harmful free radicals which if unchecked can give rise to a host of diseases or ailments. There are different classes of antioxidants present in tea, each serving an essential purpose.
But a study in Yunnan province of China showed how climate change can affect this overall nutrient content in tea leaves. Farmers complained of a poor quality yield in the recent times because of excess rainfall. There are two reasons behind this poor quality yield. First, the extra rainfall absorbed by the leaves dilutes the flavor compounds present in tea, a class of antioxidants called ‘flavonoids’.
Another significant find was that teas cultivated at higher altitude estates were not only much better in quality but also had a higher content of health-promoting nutrients, as compared to the tea harvested in lower-elevation gardens. This directly proves that as temperatures go up, the nutrient content in tea comes down significantly.
Reference study : https://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/4/2/20
Whilst there are several ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, more and more communities should come forward to learn about global warming and its effects on the planet’s vital ecosystem and our lives as well. With most of the tea-producing regions facing threats of climate change, we urge the governments around the world to bring climate action at the forefront of their agendas. Losing this precious plant would impact a massive industry and most importantly, the lives of millions of farmers who toil day and night to harvest good quality teas.
I personally cannot imagine a world where there is no tea! And, i guess you wouldn’t be happy either. If you wish to know of what immediate and small actions you can take to lessen your own carbon footprint and the impact it has on our environment. If you wish to know what is your personal carbon footprint, you can make use of this UN Carbon footprint calculator which can give you an idea of what carbon footprint does your household, travel, lifestyle choices have.
If you wish to know what personal changes can you inculcate in your daily life to reduce your carbon footprint, without having to go out of your way- then here’s a fun resource by the United Nations on ways to tackle climate change, without having to get off the couch.Click on the photo below to head to your official UN guide!
Don’t go with the name! It is a fantastic resource for what we can all do while being at home, at work, in our neighborhoods, or even within the comfort of our couch.
If you wish to enjoy your favorite beverage for a longer period of time and wish to see the millions of tea farmers and their families prosper, we suggest that you take the first step of learning about climate change!
Anyway, a small ripple of change is what paves the way for a better tomorrow!
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