Forget oil and freshwater -- the world may soon be running out of a precious resource that some Americans simply can't live without: chocolate.
"In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar," John Mason, executive director of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, told Britain's Independent. "It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it."
To American consumers used to grabbing a cheap Hershey bar in the checkout line, that might seem unfathomable, but the simple economics of cocoa cultivation may be working against that cheap global supply. Cocoa is a labor- and time-intensive crop, and the West African farmers that produce it just don't have the price incentives to continue a cultivation process that takes three to five years.
In addition, years of intensive cocoa cultivation have drained the soil in places like Ghana and the Ivory Coast. As a result, every year's cocoa crop shows a diminishing return. In the meantime, chocolate consumption in both Western and developing countries is only increasing, and so a dwindling supply could translate to skyrocketing prices. In July, one British hedge fund manager made a huge bet on that phenomenon and bought 240,000 tons of cocoa beans in what seemed like an effort to corner the market. He didn't see the dramatic price increases he was hoping for, but even so, the price of chocolate rose steadily to a three-decade high in August.
The effects of dramatic cocoa price increases will change our conception of candy. Cheaper bars could be made with significantly lower chocolate contents or substitutes like carob, and high-cocoa dark chocolate could become a treat for only the wealthy.
In 2008, chocolate price increases made it so that Hershey's new, cheaper recipes couldn't even be legally called chocolate.