Crack open a cold one: Climate change effects beer consumption, cost

Two weeks ago Ella Abbott and I traveled to Stratton, Ohio, where we discovered a sense of disapproval over the closing of the W.H. Sammis Power plant, a coal-fired facility.

Even though the fossil fuel power station emits carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas which is a major contributor to climate change, some community members of Stratton and the neighboring city of Steubenville felt the closing would be detrimental.

“It’s sad to see any industry shut down because our city was involved in the steel industry,” said Jerry Barilla, mayor of Steubenville. “And we had two major steel plants here. They both (provided) 14 thousand employment (opportunities) for each plant.”

While some people in this part of Ohio might ignore direct causes of the emissions from the FirstEnergy power plant, climate change still contributes to more than we might realize.

A recent study found climate change may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide. Yes, the main ingredient in our beer. Due to frequency and severity of drought and heat extremes, the average yield losses range from 3 percent to 17 percent (depending on the severity of the conditions), according to the findings.

The modeling in the study suggests that “increasingly widespread and severe droughts and heat under climate change will cause considerable disruption to global beer consumption and increase beer prices.”

It indicates that global beer consumption would decrease by 16 percent — or roughly equivalent to the annual beer consumption of the U.S. in 2011. Also, beer prices would, on average, double.

Don’t panic just yet, beer lovers.

Many farmers are ahead of the enviable. Some are already adapting to the climate change and are producing new plant breeding techniques. Although, barely isn’t used for just brewing purposes. It is also used for livestock feed and food. As extreme events occur, less barley will be consumed for breweries and it will be allocated toward livestock feeding instead.

Steven Davis, from the department of Earth System Science at the University of California Irvine, was among the ten people to conduct the climate change and barley correlation study.

“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,” he said to his university. “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 study he helped with suggest that based on current and expected fossil fuel burning and carbon dioxide emissions, like the ones produced by coal-fired power plants, were projected to experience more frequent droughts and heatwaves, causing a decline in the barley crop.

Co-author Nathan Mueller, UC Irvine assistant professor of Earth system science also added: “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. Our study showed that even modest warming will lead to increases in drought and excessive heat events in barley-growing areas.”

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