Beer Could Be $30 a Six-Pack Soon, and That Might Be a Good Thing

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Barley doesn't like rising temperatures, and neither will beer lovers.

We've written about how climate change could cause beer prices to skyrocket (and may already be messing with beer production). If you aren't somehow glued to Treehugger constantly, let me recap and add my two cents.

"Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world by volume consumed, and yields of its main ingredient, barley, decline sharply in periods of extreme drought and heat," write the researchers in Nature Plants.

Thanks to climate change, people will harvest 3 to 17 percent less barley. As barley dies, the price for beer will jump. But countries around the world won't feel that change equally. In what may be the first time ever, wealthy countries will actually be the worst off on this one. By the end of the century, beer may cost $20 more a six pack in the U.S., the scientists found.

This sounds dark, but there is a silver lining. When people talk about climate change, they often focus on apocalyptic, end-of-the-world consequences, where humanity is reduced to roving tribes that are always warring with each other for some reason.

"We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns U.N." writes The Guardian.

The U.N. may be right, but the apocalyptic technique isn't always the best one. For one, it's depressing and feels unwinnable. For another, it doesn't mean much to skeptics who themselves don't notice any disasters in their neighborhoods.

Besides, climate change isn't going to happen in a flash someday. It's already unfolding piece by piece. Civilization won't end tomorrow, but beer prices may creep up. While not as flashy as tribal warfare, alcohol prices skyrocketing is a change a lot of people will feel. If cheap beer costs $30 a six-pack, only the wealthy will be able to buy it regularly. Even in medieval England, peasants could afford beer. People are going to notice.

Beer Buyer: $15 a pack? It was $13 last week!
Cashier: Not our fault. It's climate change.
Beer Buyer: *becomes an environmentalist on the spot*

People often look the other way when their lives aren't being affected. But once that changes and people start demanding action, the government may have to start fixing things, stat. That's not wishful thinking, it's an established pattern.

Back in the day, food production in the U.S. was largely unregulated. In 1904, Upton Sinclar published "The Jungle," a book detailing the terrible working conditions and disgusting food made in factories. There was a public outcry; people were apparently not thrilled about having unknowingly eaten rats and fingers for years. Two years later, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an act to monitor food quality, and now we have the F.D.A.

Authorities also kept quiet about asbestos being dangerous for decades. But once the public found out, the government had to scramble to pay back all those Navy shipyard men who got poisoned while working with asbestos. Maybe beer shortages will be climate change's version of tainted food or poisonous building materials.

And this isn't just about beer. Lots of our products come from plants. Food, obviously, but also medicines, paper, wood and ethanol. All plants are susceptible to climate changes, and that means more and more of our basic products will go through some serious price fluctuations. Plus, inequality is on the rise, and climate change will likely cut down the economy, possibly even causing economic collapse. That's not a recipe for a happy public, and an unhappy public is not a recipe for a happy government.

You don't have to care about a polar bear floating on a slab of ice to get mad that you're working for lower and lower wages, and you can't even afford a beer anymore.