29. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a staple for every breakfast on Christmas morning, but with climate change harming the health of maple trees, maple syrup is under threat. Today, we’ll break down how climate change affects maple syrup production, what that could mean for maple syrup’s messy economic situation largely run by a maple syrup cartel wrought with illegal activity (one such crime becoming the largest police investigation in the history of Quebec), and how we can protect the future of this delicious condiment. With special guest Dr. Pamela Templer: Professor of Biology at Boston University.
This episode is a special one for a few reasons. For one, it’s Christmas, and I’m glad we could cover a Christmasy topic. But it’s also our first winter episode, and maple syrup made the topic of winter climate change feel a lot more relatable and accessible to me, and hopefully to all of you. Every time we talk about climate change, it’s record heat or record wildfires or record hurricanes. In the winter though, it usually just comes up during a huge cold wave or snowstorm with people joking that “we could really use some global warming” (we’ve talked before on episodes like Rethinking Climate Change why extreme cold weather would occur more frequently in a warming climate). But winters are warming too. And while it might be pleasant to humans to have a warmer winter, it has a profound effect on many ecosystems, including maple forests.
Dr. Templer’s expertise is in forest ecology, and she’s done a lot of work on how winter climate change impacts forests in New England. She was also my professor last semester, which gave me the opportunity to learn a lot more about her work. Even though the summer is where many of the extremes are visible, her comment that winter climate change is worse in some ways than summer climate change was really striking. Her research has implications in a number of areas, but it was so interesting to hear how it connected specifically to maple syrup production, since that’s something we can all wrap our heads around.
I was also fascinated by the maple syrup cartel in Quebec, and was so excited to learn more about it. While I couldn’t cover it in much depth in the episode, I highly recommend the Dirty Money episode on the Maple Syrup Heist of 2012 on Netflix. As entertaining as the subject matter is, I took the time to think critically about it from an economic perspective, because it’s not as easy as kicking the FPAQ to the curb. We talked a lot about price volatility in episodes like Vanilla and Airplanes in reference to crude oil. There are a lot of mechanisms to stabilize the price of a volatile commodity, both more regulatory and more market-based. But I think it was a little frustrating to see a genuine attempt to regulate price volatility through FPAQ and see it create so many problems. That’s certainly not to say there isn’t a way to do it successfully, but it takes a LOT of effort. The biggest lesson, though, was that Quebec can’t really just “switch” to the way Ontario or the U.S. does it, since everyone else is currently successful largely because of the FPAQ controlling price.
I hope you enjoy this topic as much as I did. Have a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and I’ll be back in your ear for the New Year!