World's Beer Supply Is Threatened by Climate Change

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Barley is a key ingredient in beer and cannot withstand rising temperatures and longer droughts.

If you needed a beer to absorb the impact of the latest climate change report, you should savor it because it may not be around forever. This week, another study came out, saying that the future of beer is threatened by climate change -- specifically, the viability of barley, the crop required to make the world's most popular alcoholic beverage.

The study, published in Nature Plants journal and conducted by researchers from the United States, China, and Britain, says that rising temperatures, longer droughts, and extreme weather events could hurt barley enough to see significant reductions in crop yields and increases in prices. As the New York Times puts it,

"Imagine a worst case of a 20 percent drop in supply in the United States, or a doubling of prices per bottle in Ireland. That’s no abstract end of civilization talk; that’s an empty display case at the Stop ’N Go."

The researchers were inspired to examine beer more closely after the topic came up at a bar. Many staple crops have been studied within the context of climate change predictions, including luxury products like wine, but beer had never undergone the kind of scrutiny these scientists wanted to give it.

Based on the predicted chances of heat waves and droughts between 2010 and 2099, they created four possible futures, from a best-case scenario with low greenhouse emissions to a worst-case scenario, where emissions are high. Then they used computer models to predict crop growth and yield based on these different weather futures. From Nature's write-up on the study:

"They found that, globally, this extreme weather would reduce barley yield by between 3% and 17%. Some countries fared better than others: tropical areas such as Central and South America were hit badly, but crop yields actually increased in certain temperate areas, including northern China and the United States... In the worst-case scenario, the reduced barley supply worldwide would result in a 16% decrease in global beer consumption in the years of extreme-weather events. Prices would, on average, double."

Readers may wonder why such a fuss is being made over beer when islands are being submerged by rising sea levels and fires are raging worse than ever; but the thing is that, even if we know these horrible events are taking place elsewhere on the planet, they have minimal impact in most of our American and Canadian lives. Beer, on the other hand, is something to which most of us can relate, and when its supply is threatened, it drives home the point that climate change will affect everyone, eventually.

As study author Dabo Guan explained, the report was directed at the richer countries of the world, to suggest that climate change will hit everyone, not just the poor, who could suffer dire food shortages. “We will suffer less,” Guan said, but we will still suffer. Climate change “may not affect our bread,” he said, “but it will affect our beer.”(via New York Times)

Sadly, I suspect it will affect more than that, by the time all is said and done...