There was one news story in particular on climate change that really resonated with me and hit close to home. I’m not talking about this one explaining how the oceans’ oxygen levels are rapidly decreasing, or this one explaining how climate change might be making North American winters longer. No, the news story that really shook me to my very core was the one which warned that Chipotle may need to stop serving guacamole thanks to the effects of climate change.
Obviously, climate change has some incredibly serious implications for our planet and for the future generations of humans who may or may not want to live on it. According to NASA, higher sea levels, droughts, and heat waves are all lovely events we can look forward to over the next century thanks to changing climates . Yet, for some reason all of these doomsday scenarios can often feel distant and ethereal, as if they don’t really apply to “us”, but rather to some nameless, faceless generation who will succeed us (even if this is wildly inaccurate and the effects of climate change are happening as we speak ).
So it’s not until something we take for granted, something we interact with every day and don’t even realize how much we love, something like Chipotle’s guacamole, is threatened that we sit up and take notice. But wait a minute, what does climate change have to do with Chipotle and guacamole? Let’s dig in and make sure we get the full scoop (pun most certainly intended)
In their annual 10-k filing with the SEC in 2014, Chipotle listed some of their perceived risks of running a restaurant business. Specifically, they mentioned :
Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients […] in the event of cost increases with respect to one or more of our raw ingredients, we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole […]
Climate change and guacamole
But how exactly could climate change lead to the higher avocado prices Chipotle was worried about? Well, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ran studies to assess the potential impact of changing temperatures and precipitation on various crops in California, like the avocados that make up guacamole . For instance, they simulated temperature increases between two to four degrees celsius, and what they found was that such changes could reduce avocado crop yields by 40% . With a reduction in yield, it’s not hard to imagine an increase in prices and decrease in availability. Indeed, the price of a single avocado increased 46% in just the last year . So it’s not crazy to think that could have an impact on Chipotle’s ability to continue serving the beloved guacamole.
As of now, Chipotle seems to be downplaying the chances of a guacamole nightmare, saying they have no plans to make any changes to their offering . In other words, there’s no specific public action they’re taking to mitigate the risk right now. But while they may be telling guacamole fans to rest easy in the near term, what steps can Chipotle take to protect their guacamole interests long term?
Obviously, they can encourage their growers to use more sustainable methods, but it’s not clear that this would be an effective or feasible strategy. Instead, Chipotle should tackle the bigger picture and use their unique position to make a stand against climate change. It’s really hard to get people to care about global warming. (If you’re in doubt about this, just ask former US Vice President Al Gore). So it’s rare that a news story on climate change can galvanize a population of people. And yet that’s exactly what happened with Chipotle and their guacamole scare [6,7,8]. Indeed, the controversy even inspired hash tags to “#fixtheclimate” and “#savetheguac:
Chipotle is in a unique position to capitalize on their place in the cultural zeitgeist and on the diehard devotion of their fans in order to have a meaningful impact. They can educate consumers on the consequences of climate change (beyond guacamole), teach them how to make small differences in their own daily lives, and motivate them to demand change from their lawmakers en masse. Indeed, the impetus for a large scale response to the perils of climate change doesn’t need to come from a doomsday story (as accurate as that story might be). No, the necessary inspiration can just as effectively come from the fear of losing something as seemingly trivial as guacamole.
Word count – 777
 “The Consequences of Climate Change.” NASA, NASA, http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/.
 Cama, Timothy. “Kerry: Climate Change ‘Not a Distant Threat.’” Kerry: Climate Change ‘Not a Distant Threat,’ The Hill, 31 Aug. 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/252364-kerry-climate-change-not-a-distant-threat.
 “SEC Filings.” Chipotle Investor Relations -, 5 Feb. 2014, http://ir.chipotle.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=194775&p=irol-SECText&TEXT=aHR0cDovL2FwaS50ZW5rd2l6YXJkLmNvbS9maWxpbmcueG1sP2lwYWdlPTkzNjIzNTImRFNFUT0wJlNFUT0wJlNRREVTQz1TRUNUSU9OX0VOVElSRSZzdWJzaWQ9NTc%3d
 “Rise in California Temperatures Likely to Affect Crops.” EurekAlert!, 4 Dec. 2006, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-12/dlnl-ric120406.php.
 Chamlee, Virginia. “What Do Skyrocketing Avocado Prices Mean for the Nation’s Guacamole Supply?” Eater, 25 July 2016, ] http://www.eater.com/2016/7/25/12270508/avocado-prices-chipotle-guacamole.
 Complex. “Fact: No One Cared about Global Warming until Chipotle’s Guac Supply Was in Jeopardy. Http://T.co/67kBxT83EP.” Twitter, Twitter, 5 Mar. 2014, https://twitter.com/complexmag/status/4412769764151459844.
 Huntsman, Liddy. “It’s up to Us, America. We Need to Save the Guacamole at @Chipotle. #Fixtheclimate #Savetheguac.” Twitter, Twitter, 5 Mar. 2014, https://twitter.com/HuntsmanLiddy/status/441215988240244736.
 Jayakumar, Amrita. “Don’t Panic. Chipotle’s Guacamole Isn’t Going Anywhere (for Now).” The Washington Post, 5 Mar. 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/03/05/dont-panic-chipotles-guacamole-isnt-going-anywhere-for-now/
Cover Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/13746431403