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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Dreaming of Coffee

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Alan Durning had a kind of dream about the negative global impacts of his coffee drinking addiction, and he has given it up for locally grown herb tea. Experience this aural epiphany.


DURNING: My name is Alan and I'm a compulsive drinker.

NUNLEY: Living on Earth commentator Alan Durning.

DURNING: Coffee is my brew. I used to drink it daily, sometimes hourly. I drank it by the pot. Cappuccinos, frappucinos, even Folgers drip. Now I'm on the wagon, drinking locally grown, herbal tea. You see, this terrible thing happened. A dream straight out of Scrooge. I saw where my coffee comes from.

(Dramatic music, followed by a whistling teakettle)

DURNING: It started one morning in the kitchen. As I poured the beans into the grinder (sound of beans pouring) I suddenly found myself in a cloud forest, on a mountain above the Cauka River in Colombia. (Drumbeats, a chainsaw starts up.) The lush tropical vegetation was disappearing all around me as a coffee plantation grew. (Chainsaw continues.) Farm workers were spraying the trees with pesticides (sound of spraying) made in the Rhine River Valley in Europe. I began to choke on the poisonous fumes and was transported ... to New Orleans!

(Syncopated rhythms, a freighter horn)

DURNING: Burlap sacks of coffee were being unloaded from a freighter, burning oil from the Orinoco River Valley of Venezuela. It was like a spin on The House That Jack Built: the freighter was made in Japan out of steel forged in Korea from iron mined in the lands of Australian Aborigines (sound of a digeridoo). Workers were pouring the beans into a roaster, which was fueled with natural gas piped in from Oklahoma. Out the other end my beans poured into bags of nylon, polyester, and polyethylene, plastics from New Jersey. And aluminum foil from a smelter in Oregon. That smelter was powered by electricity from dams that have nearly wiped out wild salmon from the Columbia River.

(A teakettle whistles)

DURNING: Suddenly I was in my kitchen again, but hovering by the ceiling, looking down. My beans, now disintegrating in the grinder, had come to my home inside a brown paper bag made from pines in the northern Rockies. On the trip from the supermarket my car had burned a sixth of a gallon of gasoline, spewing carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organics into the air. The gas had come from Alaska's north slope by way of Prince William Sound and a refinery in northern Washington.

(Gulls call; music up and under)

DURNING: Hovering in my kitchen I watched myself as I took that first sip of the day. But from the cup came waves of pesticides, oil, molten steel, my ecological wake! Suddenly it wasn't just the coffee; my T-shirt, my newspaper, my radio, the wake of it all, washed over me. I buckled under its weight. (Scary music.) Then my bathroom scale appeared flashing 115 pounds: my daily consumption of natural resources.

I fell to the floor, crushed and bloated.

(Music up and under)

DURNING: I can't shake this dream. I've got to get off this consumption kick. I've started with java, but I've got to find a way of using less. Can we make things better, figure out better ways of getting around? Get stuff from closer to home? I don't know. But I do know this. My name is Alan. I'm a compulsive coffee drinker. And there's a world in my cup.

NUNLEY: Alan Durning directs Northwest Environment Watch in the coffee-crazed city of Seattle. This commentary was adapted from his upcoming book This Place On Earth, and produced by Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick at our northwest bureau at KPLU in Seattle.



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