Hundreds of millions of beer lovers could lose affordable access to their favourite alcohol within a few decades, as the crops used to brew it may not survive human-driven climate change.
Following a report from the United Nations last week, additional research revealed that there are climate-related potential problems looming for several key brewing nations, including Belgium, the Czech Republic and Ireland, the journal Nature Plants reported.
A new study led by Wei Xie, an agricultural scientist at Peking University, constructed at least five climate models that show that extreme weather conditions, including heat waves and droughts, could reduce barley yields by 3 to 17 percent — numbers which would inevitably affect consumers worldwide.
The researchers found that beer consumption could fall by about a third in Ireland, Belgium, and the Czech Republic and by a quarter in the UK, while in China, the world’s leading consumer of the beverage, it could fall by 9 percent.
Beer is the most commonly imbibed alcoholic beverage in the world, and reductions in brewing would inevitably affect prices. The price hikes could vary from $4 to over $20 for a standard six-can pack. Consumers in Poland would take the hardest hit, the researchers said, noting that the cost for one can could rise fivefold in the worst-case scenario.
“For perhaps many millennia, and still at present for many people, beer has been an important component of social gatherings and human celebration,” the team said in their report. “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.”
“Future climate and pricing conditions could put the beer out of reach for hundreds of millions of people around the world,” professor Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine, who is also one of the authors of the study, told The Guardian. He also suggested that beer price hikes and shortages could affect social stability, comparing the situation to the Prohibition era in the US, which saw the rise of organized crime based on the supply of illicit liquor.
“If you still want to still have a couple of pints of beer while you watch the football, then climate change [action] is the only way out. This is the key message,” said professor Dabo Guan of the University of East Anglia, another researcher on the team. He added that “there is something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer.”
Guan also noted that beer crops aren’t the only ones likely to be affected by climate change. Farmers will face a difficult choice: to grow crops for luxurious products or for feeding their cattle. This dilemma could lead to shortages not only beer but also chocolate, coffee, and tea.