Cultural Disconnect

“Cuidadoso, cuidadoso, cuidadoso!” Juan Ibanez cautioned his daughter, who was fast removing the last mature berries off of his dying coffee plants. Shrivelled and burnt, these plants had nothing left to give.

It was the annual harvest, well maybe no more, and made bittersweet by the fact that we couldn’t have any of this coffee. See, we didn’t own it, humanity owned it. And these seeds were precious, especially five years after the Great Loss, when even Juan’s plants were beginning to succumb to our deteriorating climate.

The Great Loss, the Decaffeinating. Whatever you call it, the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was too little, too late. Governments also won’t tell you why they even agreed to begin with – to protect the coffee bean. They knew it was threatened, and the wild speculative repercussions of losing the plant scared everyone to consensus on climate. But still, by 2022, the Antarctic continent was ice-free.

As it turns out, the El Niño of 2016 was symptomatic of heat saturation in the oceans, and by mid-2017, the El Niño was back, and what fisheries hadn’t already collapsed, did. The few coral reefs that were still slipping by? They collapsed under the extremely warm ocean waters. The tide had finally turned, mitigation was no longer an option, only adaptation.

Climatologists attribute the rapid loss of the cryosphere to the aforementioned heat saturation of the oceans. Once the water became heat stratified, very little heat could enter the deep ocean, disabling Earth’s most persistent heat sink.

With rapidly rising temperatures and sea levels, it became increasingly difficult to produce coffee of any kind, anywhere. Now the entire genus is endangered, with only a few less-than-savoury species left. And even before cultivation, these needed to be domesticated.

Surprisingly, Juan Ibanez’s coffee plantation in Columbia managed to persist through the rapid climate change. Some say it was fate, others say it had to do with the lucky geographical location of the Ibanez plantation, nestled amongst lakes near the altitudinal range limit for Coffea arabica. If you ask Juan, he smiles and says he knows why, his father knows why, and his grandfather knows why, but he cannot betray his blood by answering the question. This has lead to speculation that these coffee plants have been under strong artificial selection for a very long time, though for what, nobody knows, only Juan.

Of course, when the world found out about the Ibanez plantation, they descended upon the farm with veraciously tuned socio-bio-cultural better-than-thou compasses. Within hours of this, UNESCO, in a rare feat of pure bureaucratic ignorance, declared the Ibanez plantation a World Heritage Site. This was the first time in history that the United Nations voted, unanimously and without abstinence or compromise, to unilaterally protect and preserve an entire genus.

You may feel shock, awe, or delight at such news. There’s a running joke in science that progress is fuelled by coffee, and we found out the hard way that this is indeed true, only on a deeper level than we ever imagined. By 2027, both Nature and Science (formerly two of the most prestigious scientific journals, now the only ones) were begging for submissions of any kind and quality: scientific progress was petering out. And we all know that technological innovation is driven by breakthroughs in basic science. Even Apple, once known for continuous and relentless releases of new technology, has switched to semi-decadal product development.

And by 2028, global peace had been achieved. Even terrorism disappeared. Everyone had put aside their differences for a coffee bean.

Controversy ensued. Academics began to argue that we should destroy the plant altogether, that it would keep the peace. Others argued that it wasn’t so simple, that if coffee were gone long enough, things would return to the 20th century status quo, much like bacteria dissociate when the benefits of quorum sensing have outlived the stress. Either way, the arguments were as speculative and emotional as 20th century drug law debates.

Regardless of geopolitical repercussions, Juan Ibanez is now holding the lynchpin (literally) to geopolitical stability. What he decides to do with his beans will determine the next few years of international politics, maybe even more. Arguably, he has the most difficult decision to make, and some argue that it shouldn’t be his. But for Juan, it is a very personal decision, as propagating his beans means that he must divulge a family secret that has kept the plantation stable for centuries – he would be betraying his ancestors.

Now Juan, ever smiling, licks his finger and holds it up, measuring the wind. A grimace crosses his face, turning to a frown. Then he cautions us, nay commands us, “No sigas, no sigas, no sigas!” – not to follow him. He turns and walks calmly into the abandoned trafficking tunnels built during the days of the drug cartels and global insecurity, never to be seen again.

– An excerpt from, “The Devil’s Drink: How Global Ecological Collapse Stabilized Geopolitical Relations in an Age of Uncertainty,” by Julia Ibanez, 2035, Nature Publishing Group: History Division.