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More drought and heat for barley crops means less beer worldwide

While man cannot live on bread alone, he apparently hasn’t been able to live without some form of beer, either. Beer is one of the oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic drinks in the world, and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea.

Made primarily from malted barley, this important grain is the subject of a new study published in the journal Nature Plants on October 15 that suggests a decrease in the global beer supply due to extreme drought and heat brought on by global warming.

Scientists from the University of California, Irvine, along with colleagues at China’s Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Mexico’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, and the U.K.’s University of East Anglia are reporting that concurrent droughts and extreme heat brought on by climate change will lead to sharp declines in crop yields of barley, beer’s main ingredient.

Texel - Bakkenweg - View WSW on Barleyfield (grown for Texel Beer)

Texel – Bakkenweg – View WSW on Barleyfield (grown for Texel Beer)
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“The world is facing many life-threatening impacts of climate change, so people having to spend a bit more to drink beer may seem trivial by comparison,” said co-author Steven Davis, UCI associate professor of Earth system science. “But there is definitely a cross-cultural appeal to beer, and not having a cool pint at the end of an increasingly common hot day just adds insult to injury.”

The researchers used five Earth System Models based on current and expected future levels of fossil fuel burning and carbon dioxide emissions. They found that extreme events such as droughts and extreme heat may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide, ranging from 3.0 percent to 17 percent decreases in barley production.

The world’s beer basket
Globally, in parts of the world where barley is grown, including the northern Great Plains, Canadian prairies, Europe, Australia, and the Asian steppe are all projected to experience increasing episodes of concurrent droughts and heat waves – leading to increased crop losses.

A Waiapi man offers Caxiri  a craft beer made with Manioc  to villagers including children in Manilh...

A Waiapi man offers Caxiri, a craft beer made with Manioc, to villagers including children in Manilha in Brazil's Amapa state
Apu Gomes, AFP


“Current levels of fossil fuel consumption and CO2 pollution – business as usual – will result in this worst-case scenario, with more weather extremes negatively impacting the world’s beer basket,” said co-author Nathan Mueller, UCI assistant professor of Earth system science. “Our study showed that even modest warming will lead to increases in drought and excessive heat events in barley-growing areas.”

Most of the world’s barley crops are used for animal feed, with just 17 percent used for brewing beer. The authors suggest this could lead to conflict in the future, perhaps leading to someone making a decision on whether to feed livestock over making a beverage for humans.

To back up this future scenario, the research team inputted a decline in barley supply into their computable general equilibrium model. The scientists consistently found that the ratio of the grain going to beer brewing decreased even more. So, in a word: yes, a decision will eventually have to be made.

The economic costs of less beer
Actually, it isn’t hard to figure out what will happen to the cost of beer when it becomes scarce on the beer aisle. The price will go up, and up, especially in beer-loving countries such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, and Poland. This means that in drought years, a consumer might have to bring the equivalent of an extra $20 along to buy a six-pack of their favorite brew.

A typical beer pong scene

A typical beer pong scene
: Rethcir


Beer consumption is predicted to go down in poorer countries, like China. But Davis joked, saying in the United States, we could see a drop-off in keg stands and beer pong tournaments in the future.

“Our results show that in the most severe climate events, the supply of beer could decline by about 16 percent in years when droughts and heat waves strike,” he said. “That’s comparable to all beer consumption in the U.S. Future climate and pricing conditions could put beer out of reach for hundreds of millions of people around the world.”

Basically, when looking at the bottom line of all this research, it lets us know about some of the smaller, less significant things that will be changed because of global warming. While someone might say, “Well, I don’t drink beer, anyway,” the beverage is just one of the thousands of products that will be impacted by our warming climate. Think about that.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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