Cracking open a cold can of beer after work or in the middle of a hot summer day is one of life’s greatest pleasures for many people. However, essential ingredients in beer like barley are at risk due to the effects of climate change. A recent study tells us what that means for beer-drinkers.
Forecasting beer’s future
This past year, researchers from the U.S., China, and the U.K. set out to predict the future of barley production, specifically as it relates to beer. They ran models that looked at four different weather scenarios from 2010-2099 and predicted agricultural yields and the resulting economic conditions. They based the worst climate scenario on an increase in fossil-fuel burning and carbon dioxide emissions, which reflects what’s happened the past century. The result? Barley production will decrease anywhere from 3-17%. While only 17% of the world’s barley production is actually used to make beer, climate change will hit the other percentage, which is used to feed animals. The barley once farmed for beer will now go to livestock. Certain countries will be more affected than others. Ireland, which consumes a lot of beer, could see prices triple as droughts become more common. In the United States, barley production might actually increase, but not enough to make a difference. The price of a 6-pack could still go by as much as $8. The same goes for China, a country that tops the U.S. in Budweiser consumption.
Even if the best-case scenario becomes a reality, the study shows that beer prices will go up, especially in Ireland, Canda, Poland, and Italy. Belgium, which is famous for its beer, will also see some price increases.
What’s being done?
Experts have been exploring some creative solutions to the potential beer-shortage problem. Two scientists at Berkeley – Rachel Li and Charles Denby – used CRISPR to insert four genes taken from mint and basil into the DNA of brewer’s yeast. This created hop-like flavors in the yeast, specifically Cascade-like flavors, which is the most used type of hops. This new yeast could be used to make beer totally free of actual hops. It took the scientists three years to get the right aroma and flavors, and after a blind taste test, brewers couldn’t tell the difference between beer made with real hops and beer made with the modified yeast. Li and Denby’s next move is to start a commercial yeast operation.
You don’t have to be a scientist to try to save beer. In 2017, married couple and beer fans Dan and Virginia Carrenos went to a training held by Climate Reality, Al Gore’s nonprofit, and decided to do a little educating themselves. Back home in Colorado, they started holding presentations about climate change and how it would affect beer at local breweries. In addition to discussing the effects of climate change on beer’s essential ingredients, they took the chance to explore other consequences, like pollution.
Beer: a personal example of climate change’s impact
Researchers understand that an increase in the price of beer is hardly climate change’s biggest consequence, but it personalizes the issue for a lot of people. Not all of us will experience the devastation of drought, storms, floods, and food shortages that other parts of the country (and the world) will, but if a favorite brand of beer suddenly becomes more expensive, most will take notice. Environmental activists hope that studies taking a close look at the future of favorite drinks and food like beer, chocolate, coffee, and more will inspire people to action. After all, Earth is the only planet where we can get Budweiser.
Besides beer, what other foods are at risk from climate change?