On top of rising sea levels and extreme weather, scientists have predicted that human-caused climate change will result in another dire consequence: a disruption in the global beer supply.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine and other institutions report that concurrent droughts and heat waves, exacerbated by human behaviour, will lead to sharp declines in crop yields of barley, beer’s main ingredient.
The study, published in the journal Nature Plants, warns the result could be a beer shortage, plus a price hike in the beer that is still available.
“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 research team modelled scenarios based on current and expected future levels of fossil fuel burning and carbon dioxide emissions, Davis said. In the worst case, parts of the world where barley is grown – including the northern Great Plains, Canadian prairies, Europe, Australia and the Asian steppe – were projected to experience more frequent concurrent droughts and heat waves, causing declines in crop yields of 3 to 17 per cent.
“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.
“Our study showed that even modest warming will lead to increases in drought and excessive heat events in barley-growing areas.”
Only 17 per cent of the globe’s barley is actually used in brewing; most is harvested as feed for livestock.
The study outlines how different regions of the world will be affected, suggesting that prices will go increase the most in wealthy, beer-loving countries like Belgium, Canada, Denmark and Poland. During drought years, for example, residents of Ireland could need to bring the equivalent of an extra $20 (£15.13) to shops to buy a six-pack, said Davis. But he also noted that some people in these nations will be willing to absorb the higher cost.