Lots and LOTS of people in the US and around the world are watching the World Cup in bars and taverns. That means lots and lots of beer is being consumed. Here’s a back of the napkin calculation: Roughly 2 billion people on the planet are watching the World Cup and, let’s say conservatively, 500 million of them drink beer. With those kind of numbers, the fact that climate change is adversely affecting beer production and quality–and will continue to do so–may be the best way to get fans engaged about this issue!
“Three Ways Climate Change is Going to Ruin Your Beer”. That’s a headline that’ll stop 500 million or more sports fans in their tracks, don’t you think? This provocative Think Progress column by Ryan Koronowski that ran a couple weeks ago (hat tip to my brother Phil for sending it my way) clearly lays out the environmental problems this huge global industry, tied tightly to sports, is facing.
According to Koronowski, the three ways climate change is wreaking havoc on beer go to the 3 most basic ingredients in the ancient adult beverage:
- Water: You can’t make beer without water and large brewers in drought-stricken areas are worried about having enough. Koronowski notes that InBev Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest brewer and maker of Budweiser, is taking note of the water shortage problem and is working feverishly to reduce the amount of water used in making beer. From 2011 to now, they’ve reduced the number of barrels of water needed to make one barrel of beer down from 3.50 to 3.15, and they are planning to further those reductions. The question is, can Anheuser-Busch ever cut water use enough, given the severity and global nature of climate change-related drought?
- Barley: Barley is as essential to beer as water. And, as Koronowski points out “heavy rains in Australia and drought in England have damaged barely crops. That pattern of heavier downpours and drier droughts is likely to accelerate as greenhouse gases trap heat and warm the planet.” SABMiller, the #2 brewer in the world is doing an end run around the problem by switching out barley for cassava, a staple in South America and Africa. It launched Impala, the world’s first cassava-based beer in Africa in 2011. It’s too early to tell if cassava beer will catch on at scale but, with the threat to barley, there may be no choice.
Impala beer, made from cassava instead of barley. SABMiller is trying this work-around as way to deal with the decline of the world’s barley crop, due largely to climate change. (Photo Credit: Brewpublic)
- Hops: I admit it–I have no idea what hops actually are but I know they are integral to beer. OK I just looked it up; hops are the female flowers of the hop plant. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor. And, per Koronowski, the quality of hops is on a climate change-based decline: “A study from 2009 suggested that the quality of Saaz hops from the Czech Republic has been falling since 1954 due to warmer temperatures. This is true for hops-growing regions across Europe.“
A hop flower in Hallertau, Germany, one of the world’s most fruitful hop-growing regions. Hops, along with water and barley, are under threat from climate change, which poses a major threat to beer makers and beer lovers alike. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
So, if you’re a beer-loving sports fan (and you know who you are!), the water/barley/hops shortage trifecta should be enough of a cause for alarm to make you put down your remote, get out of your man-cave, and call and/or write your representative, senator, governor to press them to make policies to fight climate change. If/when they do so, invite them for a beer.
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