Many scientists think the current worldwide annihilation of wildlife is the beginning of a huge loss of species on Earth.
Since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals. In the last 50 years alone, the populations of all mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have fallen by an average of 60%. The new global review says it’s even worse for bugs, with the proportion of insect species declining being double that for vertebrates. The insect decline is at least a century old, but seems to have accelerated in recent decades.
There are more than a million species of insect, compared with just 5,400 mammals, and they are the cornerstone of all terrestrial ecosystems. Without them, you get what scientists call a “bottom-up trophic cascade”, in which the knock-on effects of the insect collapse surge up through the food chain, wiping out higher animals. And without healthy ecosystems, there is no clean air and water.
Ultimately the size of the human population and how much land it uses for the food, energy and other goods it consumes determine how much wildlife is lost. Protecting wild spaces is important, as is reducing the impact of industrial, chemical-based farming.
A new mass extinction is under way, and this time we are mostly responsible. The new UN Global Assessment Report warns that a million plant and animal species are at risk of being wiped out.
Most of us find it impossible to visualise such a large number. Focusing on individual cases is only partially helpful. Plenty of tears are shed for charismatic megafauna such as rhinos when they are driven to the brink. Fewer know or care that two in five amphibian species are under threat. Phytoplankton drifting in the ocean are barely noticed at all, but absorb carbon dioxide as well as being eaten by zooplankton, which in turn are eaten by larger creatures, in turn eaten by ourselves.
It took only a century for humans to discover the dodo and drive it to extinction. But annihilation is now too speedy and commonplace for us to even recognise each species: we are sending creatures to their deaths before we know what they are. In many more cases species will survive, but in far tinier numbers. The biomass of wild animals has fallen by 82%; hedgehog populations in the British countryside halved in the last half-century.
In contrast, our own population soars, and so does its consumption. Climate change is one of the major causes of this catastrophe, bleaching corals and damaging habitats. Any sensible strategy must consider them together, as an environmental emergency. But there are also specific challenges to wildlife, including the replacement of forests by fields of cows; overfishing; the impact of pesticides and fertilisers; the pollution of air and water and soil; and the spread of plastics through our oceans and food chains.
Real change will require a depth of imagination, ambition and sheer determination which humans have historically struggled to muster. Yet if we cannot summon the required concern for a million species, we could at least focus on one: our own. We may not be charmed by Earth’s 5.5 million insect species, but we need them to pollinate crops, disperse seeds and break down waste to enrich the soil. Through ignorance, greed, laziness and simple lack of attention we are wiping out the very creatures upon whom we ourselves depend.
Getting Deeper into Coffee-how cupping classes teach regular folks to taste like the experts
4 April 2019
Steve Zimmerman, Chicago Tribune
Chicago coffee roasters, including Metric Coffee in the West Loop, are leading the way in hosting cupping events to engage and educate patrons, and explain the broader coffee experience. (Victor Hilitski/for the Chicago Tribune)
It’s an excitement that is gaining momentum with Chicago coffee drinkers — from the casual to the enthusiast. Local roasters Metric, Metropolis, and Passion House and Durham, N.C.-based Counter Culture are leading the way in hosting free cupping events to engage and educate patrons, and to explain the broader coffee experience.
Jeff Batchelder, who runs the education program at Counter Culture and has performed dozens of tastings, easily recalls moments when people realised coffee’s full range of flavours — from floral and fruity to earthy to nutty. For some, it’s a moment of enlightenment.
“Once people get past the hurdle of tasting coffee out of a bowl, with a spoon, and slurping it into your mouth, there is usually some kind of empowerment,” he said. “People are blown away by how different coffee can taste.”
Tasters use spoons and taste from bowls, instead of sipping from cups. (Victor Hilitski/for the Chicago Tribune)
What is cupping?
Cupping in the U.S. dates to the early 1900s, evolving from transactions among growers, exporters, importers and roasters. “Cupping is a tool for evaluation. It’s a way of deliberately focusing on the different characteristics of a coffee and determining what each coffee has to offer,” said Amy Lawlor, green coffee buyer and quality control manager at Metropolis. “It doesn't need to be snooty thing. If we can bring people in here to taste for themselves, then they have their own experiential knowledge of how varied coffee can taste.”
Today, cuppings are performed daily at most roasters and considered a baseline quality control exercise to check if flavour profiles are on point and roasts are consistent. At Metropolis it happens at 7 a.m. every weekday just as production shifts into high gear. For the public, the roaster includes cuppings at the end of free public roastery tours it hosts twice a month.
Inviting public in
Over the past two to three years, local roasters have begun to use cuppings to teach customers how to detect flavour notes — blunt and nuanced — that can be found in coffee.
“What becomes pretty apparent when you start cupping is that coffees can be wildly different from one another just based on where they come from, how they’re processed, how they’re roasted,” Lawlor said.
Metric keeps its cupping events simple, offering a small-scale experience without the scrutiny or pretense. At the Fulton Street roastery, it’s about learning to notice the details. Attendees are asked to jot down notes on fragrance (of dry, ground coffee), aroma (once grounds are infused with hot water), and sweetness, acidity, body and overall flavour of selected coffees.
A coffee experience
A visit to a March tasting had a lively mix of regulars, newcomers and entrepreneurs in attendance. And while 16 coffee buffs huddling around a single barista may sound crowded, Batchelder said the number has climbed into the 40s.
Cassandra Hall, of Pilsen, regularly attends and compares cuppings and tastings to auditing a college course. “I’m pretty geeked up about coffee,” Hall said. “I appreciate the community here. I’ve made friends of the regulars. I think there is an attraction to the craft, learning where it comes from.”