Trouble brewing as climate change affects beer supply

Roman Schwartz
October 17, 2018

"Another way climate change will suck".

"The aim of the study is not to encourage people to drink more today", said Dabo Guan, a co-author of the study and a professor of climate change economics at University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom.

The study did not consider climate change's effects on other ingredients of beer such as hops.

The study actually predicted that northern United States and China could actually see an increase in the amount of barley harvested - but the USA may decide to "increase their exports to meet demand in other countries" instead of making more beer. Instances of severe climate change could reduce the global beer consumption by 29 billion liters. "Average yield losses range from 3 to 17 [percent] depending on the severity of the conditions", according to the study.

The researchers said that compared with life-threatening affects of global warming such as the floods and storms faced by millions, a beer shortage may seem relatively unimportant.

Under climate change, "the majority of countries will have a decline in barley", Guan said.

To make matters worse, only 17 percent of barley is used for alcoholic consumption - most of it is used as feed for livestock, which poses a huge problem for producers: feed for animals or thirsty humans?

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Climate change could reshape the barley and beer market, the researchers say, depicting a situation where China - which now drinks more Budweiser than the USA - would scale back its beer consumption.

As a result, the cost of beer could soar. China could also see a drop in consumption and Davis "joked" the USA could see a decline in areas such as keg stands and beer pong tournaments, as six packs could rise the equivalent of an extra $20 in Ireland and other countries. Decreases in global supply lead to proportionally larger decreases in barley used to make beer.

The biggest importers are China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, with three top brewing nations - Netherlands, Belgium and Japan - just behind.

"If you don't want that to happen - if you still want a few pints of beer - then the only way to do it is to mitigate climate change".

"Really, the countries who love beer will suffer a lot", he said. Other countries would likely drink less beer, as their farmers are expected to export more barley to countries that would struggle to grow enough barley under hotter, drier conditions.

Citing prohibition in the United States and the subsequent emergence of the illegal liquor trade, Prof Guan also warned that the shortage could lead to similar disorder. "If you want to have the choice for not only beer but chocolate, coffee, tea, cigars - all of those crops are very much vulnerable to climate change".

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