By and large, people don’t seem to care about climate change—at least, not enough to take any meaningful action. They’re facing the possibility of drastic change in the habitability of their land, safety of their property, and stability of their food supply, and yet we’ve still seen no serious changes in people’s consumption habits. But there’s one thing that might really get their attention: what if it becomes harder for people to grab a tasty, ice-cold beer?
According to CNN, that may well be the case in the future. A new scientific study, originally published in the journal Nature Plants, estimates that as the climate continues changing, a global beer shortage might be upon us. This is because the hotter, drier climate will lead to a substantial decrease in barley crop yields, which will make it far less cost-effective for breweries to make large quantities of beer.
Dabo Guan, climate change economics professor at University of East Anglia in the UK, explained that the majority of countries worldwide should expect a decline in barley production, which will have a big impact.
“Globally, only a small fraction of barley goes into making beer,” Guan explained. “Only 17 percent of the barley [goes into] making beer. The rest of the 83 percent is actually going to feed pigs and other animals, basically.”
Guan also noted that only high-quality barley is reserved for beer-brewing, which means that even a slight downgrade in the health of barley crops could significantly eat into the world’s beer supply.
This is a relatively new angle from which to view climate change. The Nature Plants report noted that experts have measured climate impacts by looking at agriculture before, but often such research focuses on more common crops like corn, wheat, and rice, which together account for about 50 percent of the calories in people’s diets worldwide. When scientists measure the effect of rising temperatures and reduced water supplies, these crops usually make for a good measuring stick. The report noted that for beer drinkers, though, barley is just as essential.
The repercussions of a global beer shortage could be serious. Guan noted that in small countries where beer is a key commodity, such as Ireland, Estonia and the Czech Republic, the national economies will suffer significantly. We may even be headed for a period of “social instability,” Guan predicted, similar to what happened during the Prohibition period in the United States.
“If you don’t want that to happen—if you still want a few pints of beer—then the only way to do it is to mitigate climate change,” Guan said. “We have to all work together to mitigate climate change.”
So, after you have a pint of your favorite beer, it’s time to get busy fighting climate change.