Boo! Climate Change is Coming for Your Pumpkin Spice Lattes!

The climate crisis is  affecting every aspect of our lives, including the holiday traditions and foods many of us cherish with our families and friends.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes: Introduced in 2003, the pumpkin spice latte is the most popular drink at Starbucks, which sells about 424 million of the drink worldwide each year. It brought in an estimated $100 million in revenue to the chain in 2015. The Starbucks PSL drink has spawned a trend with brands releasing everything from yogurt to almonds in that flavor.

  • The Starbucks pumpkin spice latte contains ingredients including milk and espresso, all of which will be affected by climate change:
  • Dairy farmers report that smoky conditions due to wildfires brought on by drier conditions from warmer temperatures have reduced dairy cows’ milk production and increased the risk of disease. 
    • Climate change is already affecting rainfall patterns and pest infestations in Central America, where Starbucks sources most of its suppliers.

Halloween Jack-o’-lanterns: In 2020, more than 2 billion pumpkins were produced, with 9 states (Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, California, Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas) responsible for about 75% of the harvest. Pumpkins that weigh 10 to 25 pounds are typically used for jack-o’-lanterns, but can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

  • Increased rainfall from climate change can inhibit pumpkin growth and make them more susceptible to disease.
  • The phytophthora fungus, which damages crops including pumpkins and appears in most years, made an early appearance in Illinois due to heavy rains in late June and early July. Illinois produces more than 90% of the canned pumpkin sold in the United States.

Leaf Peeping and Fall Foliage: The fall foliage tourism industry generates an estimated $25 to $30 billion for economies across the country each year. With climate change extending summers into September, higher air temperatures will cause the air to hold more moisture, leading to more rain in some areas. Wetter and warmer weather leads to duller red-colored leaves. Warmer weather will also drive trees to move north in search for cooler temperatures.

  • While leaves typically change in September, Maine’s fall rangers reported in September 2021 a less than 70% leaf change and a moderate leaf drop. 

Apple Picking: Apple production in the United States is expected to be over 265 million bushels for 2021-2022, an increase 2.7% over the 2020-2021 season. Apple picking became a favorite fall activity of millennials, causing some growers to shift from servicing bulk buyers to casual weekend pickers. Apple picking was also a favorite outdoor activity in the fall of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, climate change threatens apples by making them more vulnerable to bacterial pathogens, drought, and inconsistent temperatures.

  • Extreme weather, pests, a lack of water, and disease all threaten Washington’s apple cider industry, with 101 cideries in the state generating $700 million of economic impact in the region and $300 million for  Washington itself.  
  • Drought and reduced melted snowpack have greatly impacted the state’s fruit growers in Colorado’s North Fork Valley, which has seen its 25,000 acres of apple orchards dwindle closer to 3,000 acres over the past few decades.

Thanksgiving Turkey: ​​The turkey industry in the United States produced about 224 million turkeys across 2,500 farms in 2020. The industry provides more than 440,739 American jobs with direct wages of $24.1 billion. In 2020, people in the United States ate around 5.26 billion pounds, at 16 pounds per person. About 46 million turkeys are consumed by people in the United States at Thanksgiving and about 22 million turkeys are eaten at Christmas.

  • In 2021, turkeys are expected to be anywhere from 10% to 15% more expensive due to multiple factors including the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of feed due to climate change. The increasing prices of corn feed for livestock may have discouraged companies from growing turkeys.
  • Turkeys are vulnerable to heat and cold, and varying temperatures caused by climate change may affect the quality of their meat.

Cranberry and Sweet Potato Pies: In November 2020, Instagram released a map showing that cranberry pie was the most popular for the Thanksgiving holiday across 14 states, followed by sweet potato in 11 states. In the United States, about 400 million pounds of cranberries are consumed each year, with 20% of that happening at Thanksgiving. Wisconsin, which is the number 1 cranberry producer in the world, sees about $1 billion in revenue annually from the crop. North Carolina is the top sweet potato producer in the United States, and harvests about 2 billion pounds of sweet potatoes annually, with the 2019 crop valued at $324 million.

  • Cranberries, which is only 1 of 3 fruits that are native to North America, has seen its harvesting season shift from September or October in the 1800’s to September or even later as of 2020 as temperatures continue to warm due to climate change.
  • Warmer temperatures can also cause the cranberry flowers to bloom earlier in the spring, making them more vulnerable should there be any frost.
  • Sweet potatoes could contain more sugar and starch and have less nutritional value due to increased carbon dioxide emissions from climate change.

Corn: Corn was the country’s largest crop in 2019. It is used in a wide range of foods, including bakery mixes, cornbread, and breading. The poultry industry consumes 3,500 million bushels of corn a year, and is the second largest consumer of corn in the animal-agriculture sector. Corn is considered a good option to fatten turkeys and as a good winter food. 

  • Drought has caused one Nebraska farmer to harvest her corn crop early in 2021 so as not to risk the corn being exposed to continued heat or possible wind damage.
  • A study from the International Food Policy Research Institute estimated that climate change will increase the prices of corn, wheat, and rice by at least two-thirds by 2050. 

Christmas Trees: Christmas trees are a $2 billion a year business, with 15,000 farms  that grow around 350 million trees at any given time and harvest about 25 million trees for sale each year. About 2 out of 3 trees are sourced from Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Christmas trees can take 8 to 10 years to mature, which makes for a low profit margin.

  • An Oregon Christmas tree farmer saw 9 acres of his tree crop fry after a late June 2021 heat wave in the state, with estimated losses of 90%.
  • Another Oregon Christmas tree farmer lost almost all of the planted seedlings and many of their grown trees have heat damage because of the 2021 drought and heat waves.

Dreaming Of A White Christmas: The romantic portrayals of a snowy, white Christmas has been immortalized in a song and a classic film, and are linked with hot cocoa, sledding and snowmen. Winter tourism, which relies on significant snowfall for skiing, snowboarding and other similar activities, generated more than $21.5 million in revenue for the first quarter of 2020 alone in the United States.

  • Although White Christmases were more common in the 18th and 19th centuries, as of 2019 the majority of the world’s population spends Christmas Day in places that are above freezing temperatures, and many are above 60 degrees.
  • Snowfall in the United States has been diminishing since widespread observations were available beginning in 1930. 57% of 419 weather stations have observed a decline, with the amount of snow decreasing by an average of 0.19% every year.

Maple Sugar Season: Maple syrup production is particularly vulnerable to climate change because the tapping season in late winter is dependent on reaching temperatures below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. This creates pressure for sap to flow from the tree so it can be collected to make maple syrup, maple sugar, and all sorts of winter treats.

  • Researchers projected that peak maple syrup production will shift northward by 400km due to climate change, benefitting Canadian producers while U.S. producers will see declines.