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  • Is Beer at Risk from Climate Change?

Is Beer at Risk from Climate Change?

Jan 13 2019 Read 1139 Times

The far-reaching consequences and detrimental impacts of climate change have been well-documented, but there’s perhaps one angle which has yet to be considered: how will global warming affect the availability of mankind’s favourite alcoholic beverage?

It was exactly this question which researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) decided to ask themselves - and the answer isn’t likely to please those fond of a tipple of the amber nectar. They found that barley yields were likely to have decreased by between 3% and 17% by the year 2099, thus having a profound effect on the availability of beer in that time.

Endangered ingredients

The principal ingredient used in beer-making is barley, which is currently cultivated mostly in the northern hemisphere. That’s because the crop thrives in colder, more temperate climates and cannot deal with prolonged periods of heat or drought.

Unfortunately, climate scientists are in almost universal agreement that such extreme weather events are only likely to become more commonplace as global temperatures increase in line with climate change. While our ability to predict those events in advance may be improving, we could be essentially powerless to stop their effects on the most sensitive of our crops, including barley.

Short supply

The team behind the study assessed the impact on barley crop yields under a range of different future climate scenarios and reached discouraging conclusions. Under the predictions of the worst-case scenario, barley yields could drop by as much as 17%, which would have a knock-on effect on the availability and economic price of beer in countries around the world. Even in the best-case scenario, the researchers envisaged a 3% reduction in global barley yields.

In concrete terms, that could mean that people would enjoy less access to beer, pushing up prices and driving down consumption levels. The authors estimate that on average, global consumption would fall by 16%, while prices could leap up by as much as 193% in places like Ireland, for example. Of course, it may not represent the most disastrous consequence of global warming, but it’s certainly food for thought for beer lovers everywhere.

A more sustainable tomorrow

Barley isn’t the only crop which is likely to suffer as our planet’s temperature slowly increases. Other staples such as corn, soya beans and wheat are also under threat, and it’s important that we find ways to safeguard unsustainable food products, as well as switching to alternatives as best we can.

The scientists behind the UCI study did have one word of encouragement, however. They acknowledged that their study did not take into consideration any advancements in genetic engineering or technological improvements which could help to boost the resilience of barley and other crops in the face of rising temperatures… so for beer’s sake, let’s hope science can come to our rescue.

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