This Valentine’s Day, things are getting hot and steamy — or at least, the planet is.
After a brutal cold front in early February, spring-like temperatures have settled over New England for the holiday, a sign of the shorter winters that the region has come to know well amid climate change.
The weather isn’t the only thing about Valentine’s Day that’s changing. Here’s how climate change is threatening three signature Valentine’s Day traditions.
From gifting giant, heart-shaped boxes of bonbons to sharing lush, creamy ganaches, chocolate is the tastiest Valentine’s tradition. But changes in the climate are making it harder to produce — and making it more expensive.
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree, which only grows in highly specific climate conditions found within 20 latitudinal degrees of the equator, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Places within that band — including Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Indonesia, the world’s top-three chocolate producers — have long been fairly warm and humid year-round. But thanks to the climate crisis, those conditions are changing.
As the regions warm up, more water is evaporating from soil and plants. That lack of humidity is a problem for cacao production, experts say. This has already led to an increase in chocolate prices, a trend that will probably continue as the region gets even warmer. Farmers could experience a significant decline in cacao production by the end of the decade, data show, putting not only traditions, but also national economies and countless livelihoods, at risk.
Not all hope is lost. A 2021 study by Peruvian ecologists found that even as farmed cacao falters, resilient wild cacao strains in Peru could actually thrive, becoming one-third more prevalent by 2070. But other effects of climate change, including increasing pests and plant diseases, could mute those gains, and domesticating those wild crops to make chocolate won’t be easy.
Some researchers are also working with cacao farmers to help them create agricultural practices that boost crops’ resilience to climate change. Other experts are also working to develop strains of cacao that can handle changes in temperature and rainfall.
As it is threatened by climate change, chocolate production is also fueling the climate crisis. Between 2000 and 2019 alone, 2.4 million hectares of forest were cleared to make room for cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, according to Trase, a deforestation-tracking organization.
When trees are chopped down, much of the carbon they stored over their lifetime is released back into the atmosphere as planet-heating carbon dioxide. So if you are buying chocolate for a loved one this Valentine’s Day, consider looking for brands that have been certified by (useful, if sometimes flawed) auditors like the Rainforest Alliance.
If you’re gifting a bouquet of flowers, here’s something to think about: Climate change can lead to shorter blooming periods, cause plants to yield smaller and fewer flowers, and otherwise disrupt flowers blossoming.
Take, the quintessential Valentine’s Day flower: the rose. In England last year, one well-known UK rose producer, David Austin Roses, was forced to retire prized varieties like the Munstead Wood and A Shropshire Lad due to the rampant spread of plant diseases like black spot and powdery mildew and pests like aphids, which thrive in warmer, muggier conditions.
“We cannot stand still and observe as we see diseases and pests evolve as conditions and climates change, threatening the health and success of some of our most popular varieties,” a spokesperson for David Austin Roses told local news outlet the Shropshire Star last year.
Perhaps you’re a bigger fan of another famously romantic flower: the tulip. Well, most wild tulips are native to the mountains of Central Asia, a region particularly vulnerable to global warming. One 2021 study on those wild varieties predicted the “severe plight of tulips even under best-case climate scenarios.”
And climate change has taken a toll on other flowers, too. A first-of-its-kind study published last year, found that wildflowers across Northern Europe could see a steep decline in abundance — up to 40 percent — if the world warms by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Like chocolate making, flower production can also be a problem for the climate. The vast majority of cut flowers sold in the United States are imported from South America. In 2018, Valentine’s Day flowers grown in Colombia and flown to US airports produced some 360,000 metric tons of planet-heating CO2 — roughly equivalent to 78,000 cars driven for one year — according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. This year, consider gifting local flowers instead.
Champagne — the fancy sparkling wine that famously only comes from the Champagne region of France — has been around for thousands of years. But it’s not immune to changes in the climate.
Champagne’s average regional temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius over the last three decades. That has forced farmers to harvest grapes earlier.
It’s also pushed some winemakers to produce different forms of wine to take advantage of the changing conditions. Since grapes ripen more fully in the warmer weather, some have shifted to more full-bodied, still wines instead of the traditional bubbly.
So far, though, wine production hasn’t dropped off in the region. According to the Champagne Committee, a trade association, last year’s “sunny 2022 harvest” was “remarkable both for its quantity and quality.”
But that could all change soon. Climate models predict that in the coming decades, springs in the region will get colder while summers will get hotter. That could threaten the fragile climate that makes Champagne grapes so special.
Signs of this new future are already here. In 2021, the Champagne Committee announced that as much as 60 percent of the region’s grape yield were lost due to frost. And in 2019, the region recorded its highest-ever temperature of 109.2 degrees Fahrenheit (42.9 degrees Celsius), and harvests took a hit.
Champagne, flowers, and chocolate won’t disappear overnight. But amid the climate crisis, they could become more expensive and rare. It’s yet more evidence that climate change is reshaping every facet of human life, and another reason to curb greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming.
Dharna Noor can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.