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Another reason to fight climate change: some of our favorite foods will go extinct

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: If you don't want chocolate to be less available and more expensive, then something needs to be done about climate change. According to researchers, the warmer temperatures will have a huge impact on cocoa production in West Africa, but that's not all. The production of rice, wheat and coffee will all feel the effects of climate change. So how will our diets change in a warmer world? Danielle Eiseman is a climate change communication specialist, and she's also the co-author of "Our Changing Menu: Climate Change And The Foods We Love And Need." Danielle, welcome.

DANIELLE EISEMAN: Thank you for having me.

KURTZLEBEN: So let's start with the big question. When I hear that climate change is affecting the way that I eat, what does that mean? How is it affecting what I eat already?

EISEMAN: Well, I would say the most prevalent way that climate change is currently affecting what you personally eat would be in terms of the availability of certain foods, especially on a seasonal basis. Planting may have to occur later because of flooded fields. Harvesting is happening much later for certain crops. And also, the nutritional value of many of our staple crops are decreasing. So a lot of research has shown that the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is really changing the protein levels of a lot of staple crops, such as rice. And, you know, for the billions of people that rely on rice as part of their daily diets, that can have a huge impact on their overall health.

KURTZLEBEN: I didn't realize that it would - that it affected the nutritional content. That's fascinating. You also write about foods we might eat more of. What are some of those?

EISEMAN: So I think one of the more interesting ones that we might eat more of is octopus and squid. So what's great about octopus is that they really enjoy the warmer temperatures in the water, and they thrive. That might be something that we see on the menu more, as well as other sea vegetables, you know, like kelp, sea beans and other things that grow in the ocean and help actually absorb some of the extra carbon dioxide that we are encountering in our atmosphere right now.

KURTZLEBEN: Let's flip that around, how what we eat affects the climate. In a world where people drive everywhere, where we burn fossil fuels, give us a sense of how much our diets affect climate change.

EISEMAN: Well, the biggest impact is really the change in land use. So as we have a growing population and more people to feed, we are devoting more and more of our habitable land to producing food. As we start to disrupt the natural states of our lands, then that releases carbon dioxide. So we try to encourage farmers to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices. We often recommend no tillage or low tillage because you're seeing less disruption of the soil, and that helps with absorbing more carbon dioxide and keeping some of those healthy nutrients in the soil. And then there's also the emissions from increasing demand for meats. There's a lot of emissions associated with feeding cattle produced from digestion - so as cows burp or belch, they produce methane, which is a pretty potent greenhouse gas.

KURTZLEBEN: I see. So to make this practical for our listeners who might want to be mindful about how they eat in terms of climate change, you know, we often hear, eat less meat. Eat more plants. What other meaningful changes could people make?

EISEMAN: Well, really, you know, trying to learn more about where your food comes from and choosing to purchase food from local farmers that are adopting climate-smart agricultural practices in their farms. Also, you know, not buying more than what you need - so food waste is a huge producer of carbon emissions, especially if we send that food to landfill. So being very mindful of how much you're buying and making sure that you're eating everything that you're buying.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. Well, Danielle Eiseman is a climate change communication specialist. Thank you so much for talking to us.

EISEMAN: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BACAO RHYTHM & STEEL BAND'S "THE SERPENT'S MOUTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.