Global beer shortages expected as climate change worsens

Global beer shortages expected as climate change worsens

Dark times lay ahead. And without beer, they'll be even darker.

VicesMarch 21, 2019 By Will Brendza

As climate change starts picking up speed, things are going to get weird down here on planet Earth: oceans will rise, cities will sink, droughts will parch the land, crops will wither en masse and hordes of refugees will start pouring across national borders, inland, towards higher ground. Hurricanes will intensify. Bomb-cyclones will become commonplace. Famine will starve the masses.

And, according to scientific projections, beer is going to be in very short supply.

That’s unsettling news. And not just for beer lovers, either, but for humanity at large. When environmental shit starts hitting the fan, people are going to need beer more than ever.

By volume consumed, beer is the most beloved alcoholic beverage in the world. In the US alone, we consume over 6.7 billion gallons of the stuff annuallyenough for well-over 20 gallons to each American adult. That doesn’t even consider places like the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria where beer is literally a dietary staple for most of the population.

When that resource starts dwindling, there will be problems.

“Although some attention has been paid to the potential impacts of climate change on luxury crops such as wine and coffee, the impacts on beer have not been carefully evaluated,” Dabo Guan, the lead author of this research and professor of climate change economics at UAE’s School of International Development, said in a press release. “A sufficient beer supply may help with the stability of entertainment and communication in society.”

In other words, without beer to grease the joints, society as we know it may start to unravel. Which doesn’t bode well for humankind in the face of such existential challenges. The walls will be closing in on us from all sides. Disaster will be at our doorstep — spilling over us, even. There may never have been a time in recent history, when we’ve needed beer more.

Here’s how it’s going to go down, according to Guan’s research: as climate events and changes ramp up, global barely production is projected to tank by 3-17 percent “depending on the severity of the conditions.” Less barely means less beer. Less beer means higher beer prices. And higher beer prices means angry beer lovers.

It’s a downward spiral; a negative feedback loop that leads us down a dark and foreboding road.   

Fortunately, this isn’t going to happen overnight. Unfortunately it’s bound to happen. And it’s going to happen slowly and over a period of years, perhaps even decades. Beer prices in places like the US will slowly start climbing as global barley yields plummet, forcing consumption rates down as well. Eventually, only the wealthiest world-citizens will be able to afford a sixer of their favorite brews. It will become the beverage of the elite, the hoppy refreshment they’ll enjoy sipping on in their ivory towers, while the End Times conspire far below.

It may be argued that consuming less beer isn't itself disastrous, and may even have health benefits,” Guan says. “Nevertheless, there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury.”

Now, some people out there are probably scoffing at all this. We’ll have bigger problems to deal with if things get that bad! They’re thinking. No one’s going to give a goddamn if they don’t have beer to enjoy at the end of the day, if the sky is falling.

That’s a fair point. But one that also neglects the functional aspects of beer consumption.

Yes, we will have bigger problems to deal with. No, beer won’t be the most pressing issue on people’s minds. But the fact is, human beings have been brewing beer for over 12,000 years — and not just because we like to get buzzed. Once upon a time, when we lived off the land, before modern medicine or modern anything, people drank beer instead of water because it was safer.

When people stopped hunting and gathering and settled down into communities, they quickly realized that they had a lot of new health problems to deal with. Suddenly their waste was piling up and their water quality was suffering because of it. But, when they discovered how to ferment grain in water, they also discovered a way to sterilize it. Even one percent alcohol in water kills over 95 percent of the bacteria in it.

Originally, this boozy beverage was a survival tool: a form of sterilization that had the added benefit of getting people tipsy.

So what happens if we are driven back to that brink again, without beer? What happens when there’s almost 8 billion people on the planet and rule of law starts dissolving under apocalyptic conditions and we don’t have barely to ferment? Once our water purification and treatment systems shut down?

Dark times lie ahead, ladies and gentlemen — with beer, or without. But just be safe, it might be worth it to start stashing away an emergency cache of your favorite brews. Or maybe start growing your own barely and learn to brew for yourself.

Or, maybe just drink ‘em while you got ‘em. We're living through the golden age of craft brewing right now — might as well enjoy it before whetever comes next. 

Why is the beer always gone?