Beer may be yet another victim of climate change

Beer may be yet another victim of climate change
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Fall and football season:Over one-third of Americans report that football is their favorite sport to watch — and there is no more classic beverage for tailgating than beer. Indeed, the start of football season can prompt more than a 36 percent rise in beer consumption. But trouble is brewing ahead: Beer may be yet another victim of climate change.

A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature Plants projects that extreme heat and drought associated with climate change will depress global yield of barley, of which almost one-fifth of global production goes to the beer sector to make malt.

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The study’s authors predict that by 2100 declines in barley yield could be severe enough to send the price of beer skyrocketing to 100 to 656 percent higher than recent prices and, as a consequence, reduce beer consumption by 16 percent globally — or an amount equal total beer consumption in the U.S. alone in 2011.

The impact will vary among countries. Whereas Americans are expected to pay only $1.94 more per pint, other countries may see prices triple – beer drinkers in Ireland may pay an additional $4.84 per pint.

Our neighbors in Canada are likely to be the second most-impacted country by price spikes, paying $4.34 more for a single pint during years with extreme weather.

Rising prices and declining consumption of beer can affect more than tailgating. Economic models used in the study showed that when barley production falls short of demand, producers will sell their limited supplies to buyers seeking to feed livestock rather than to make beer. Implications to the U.S. economy have the potential to be serious. Consider this: the beer industry employs over 2.2 million Americans, and the total economic impact of beer, when considering breweries, retailers, distributors, and all others along the supply chain, exceeded $350 billion in 2016. If pinched by barley shortages and price hikes, these breweries might have to scale back production. At the global scale, falling demand for beer, as some nations cut back amid rising prices, could upset our export markets, of which Canada and Mexico represent over half.

The threat of climate change is not news to brewers or farmers, many of whom were already exploring ways to adjust to warmer temperatures and drought. Brewers got a taste of climate-related impacts on the beer industry in 2017 when the Pacific Northwest was hit by severe drought that threatened the availability of hops, which flavor certain beers. Now even the giants of U.S. beer production are anticipating the threat. For example, Budweiser, which buys barley from a broad group of farmers across the northern U.S., is investing in drought-resistant strains of barley and other mitigating technologies to conserve water or irrigate crops.

Of course, barley — let alone beer — is among the least of our worries when it comes to climate change. Nevertheless, the new research underscores how far-reaching, and sometimes surprising, the consequences might be.

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report warning that our planet is careening towards a 3 degree Celsius increase — far above the preferred target of 1.5 degree Celsius and a level of warming that threatens the planet’s livability.

Despite being coauthored by 91 scientists from 40 countries, sourced with over 6,000 references, and incorporating 42,000 comments from governments and experts, the report was unable to convince President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE, who recently touted his own “natural instinct for science”. Although the President acknowledged that the climate was changing during a recent interview with “60 Minutes”, he suggested that the climate might reverse course on its own. As such, he preferred not to spend “trillions and trillions of dollars” nor lose “millions and millions of jobs”; the president doesn’t want to be “put at a disadvantage”.

The problem is that in the absence of action to address climate change, the collective impacts to the economy, the environment, and human health and well-being will likely soar to unmanageable levels. For example, a study published last year in Science estimated that the combined cost of market and nonmarket damage across sectors (i.e., agriculture, crime, coastal storms, energy, human mortality, and labor) will cost approximately 1.2 percent of gross domestic product per 1 degree Celsius rise in average global temperature.

One of the truisms to emerge over the last century is that turning a blind eye to environmental issues does not work to our advantage; rather the failure to act is precisely what most often places us at a disadvantage.

Amanda Rodewald is the Garvin professor and senior director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, faculty in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University and a faculty fellow at Cornell University's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. Views expressed in her column are hers alone and do not represent those of these institutions.