Mother Nature is done playing around. If catastrophic hurricanes, devastating wildfires, and rising oceans aren’t enough to convince you that climate change is real, maybe the latest blow will. And this one is straight to the gut. The beer gut, that is.
According to a new study published in Nature Plants, increasing extreme heat and drought events will result in a shortage of barley and consequently, the world’s most popular alcoholic beverage: beer. The international team of scientists behind the research modelled what will happen to barley production, beer price, and consumption under 5 different climate warming scenarios over a period of 90 years. The results? As the world heats up, so will the price of one of our favorite ways to cool down. That tall, dark brewski that you reach for on a hot summer day? Is going to cost you more. A lot more.
The best case scenario? Barley crop yields will decrease by 3%, beer prices will increase by 15%, and beer consumption will decrease by 4%. This is IF we can drastically reduce fossil fuel burning and carbon dioxide emissions in the near future. If we can’t (or won’t), then under current levels of fossil fuel consumption and pollution, the worst case scenario is that barley crop yields will decrease by 17%. As the majority of barley is used for feeding livestock, this will further decrease the amount available for brewing and will cause average beer prices to double.
If you’re currently swigging your mug of suds, relaxing in your La-Z-Boy and thinking it’s NBD, let me put it in perspective for you. That 6-pack of beer? Will cost you $28 more in some countries. The countries hardest hit will be Ireland, Italy, and Canada with a frosty pint of golden nectar costing up to a whopping $4.84 more. Americans will take less of a hit to their wallets with an estimated increase of $1.94 per pint during drought years.
Steven J. Davis, an environmental scientist at the University of California Irvine, and one of the lead researchers, released a statement on the severity of the situation.
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. 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.
According to Jessica Newman, the director of agronomy for Budweiser, the U.S. beer giant is already on it. She tells Wired that the company is investing in new breeds of drought-resistant barley strains.
We are breeding for drought resistance and sprout resistance. If we see rainfall coming earlier, or if it rains in the wrong time of year, the barley can sprout and it wouldn’t be used. We also want it to use less water and fewer agricultural chemicals.
Look, obviously a decrease in the global beer supply isn’t going to be the end of the world. We will have the dire consequences of climate change like extreme heat, drought, flooding, poverty, and famine for that. Even the researchers are aware that beer is insignificant when compared to existential threats.
Although it may be argued that consuming less beer is not disastrous—and may even have health benefits—there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer consumption will add insult to injury.
But the researchers are hoping that this study will, at the very least, open the eyes of people to the impact that climate change will have on our daily lives.
Here’s looking at you, Trump.