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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The end of times? Let us eat cake

BY SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS
The Wichita Eagle

A recent report from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture — what, you don’t subscribe? — predicts that coffee and chocolate could become luxuries few can afford if temperatures continue to rise thanks to climate change.

The report says an expected annual temperature increase of more than two degrees Celsius by 2050 will leave many of West Africa’s cocoa-producing areas too hot for chocolate.

That could mean $700 boxes of Cocoa Puffs by mid-century. And who dares imagine what a venti mocha might cost by then?

In some homes, this news would be met with apathetic shrugs. In others, maybe a brief debate about the merits of climate-change research.

In ours, it is yet another doomsday prediction that must be considered in context, analyzed for its potential effect on our long-term future and our way of life.

“Let’s see, 2050,” says my husband, Randy, eyes to the ceiling. “I’ll be gone by then, right?”

“No!” I say, nearly shouting. “We’ll only be in our…80s?”

“Yeah, well.”

“Yeah, well what?”

“Nearly gone.”

“Don’t say that.”

I hate these conversations. I hate them even more the older I get, as I squint toward the future and notice that the brilliant glow on the horizon might actually be the headlight of an oncoming train.

I plan to be the crazy old lady who bungee jumps on her 95th birthday, not depressed, decrepit and “nearly gone.” And heaven knows I’m going to need some coffee and chocolate.

The children, of course, downright relish these talks. They are future-centric, always looking forward to the next birthday, vacation, holiday, allowance, milestone. I tell Hannah and Jack to savor their childhoods, and they laugh.

Oh silly, silly woman, they seem to say. Don’t you realize we’re designed by nature to squirm and fidget and fly this coop? They’re all blue skies and sunshine, not a freight train in sight.

So the kids greet doomsday predictions — no chocolate by 2050, the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, radio preacher Harold Camping’s revised apocalypse on Oct. 21 (hey, that’s tomorrow!) — with brazen smiles.

“They used to think Halley’s comet would kill us,” Jack told me once.

Indeed, the speculation was printed in the New York Times and other newspapers in 1910, before scientists explained that the tail of the comet wouldn’t, in fact, bathe the earth in toxic gas.

The last big “doomsday” I recall was Y2K, when folks thought computer glitches on Jan. 1, 2000, would spark catastrophic problems. Survivalists prepared bunkers full of guns and tuna.

“I couldn’t drink champagne that New Year’s Eve, because I was pregnant with you,” I tell Jack. “But I remember wondering: What’s gonna happen when the clock strikes midnight?”

He laughs.

Then there was Ebola and swine flu. Nuclear holocaust like that TV movie, “The Day After.” Black holes, zombies and killer robots. Identity theft. Supervolcanoes.

The end of the world, by gamma rays or alien invasion, seems perpetually imminent. Or even worse: the end of a world with coffee and chocolate.

“I dunno, 2050 is a long way off,” my son says, doing the math. “We’ll have an invention that saves the ozone by then.” Or they’ll find some new way to grow coffee and cocoa, he adds. No problem.

You’d better, I tell him. The human race counts on ingenuity and optimism.

And I don’t know about you, but at your 50th birthday party, I want chocolate cake.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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