Nothing beats a cold, frosty beer on a hot day. But as the Earth gets warmer, relief may become scarcer and pricier, agricultural scientists warn in a new Nature Plants article. The reason behind this cruel twist of fate is that one of the key ingredients in making beer is especially susceptible to drought and heat. According to the study published Monday, crop yields will drop as climate change worsens, driving prices up. And as beer ingredients get more expensive, so will a glass of beer.
In the new paper, researchers in China, Mexico, and the US used five climate system models to show that barley, a crucial source of the sugar that makes beer alcoholic, isn’t going to handle the changing climate very well.
“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,” co-author Steven Davis, Ph.D., an associate professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, said. “There is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer,” he and his co-authors write in the new paper.
The computer models showed that barley yields will decrease by 3 to 17 percent around the world by the end of this century. Economic analyses then showed that this decrease in barley production would correspond to decreased beer consumption, and perhaps most worryingly, serious beer price increases around the world.
The researchers found that countries where beer is already expensive — like Japan and Australia — probably won’t see as much of a price hike as countries where people have money and love drinking beer — like the US and Ireland. Under the most severe climate model, the researchers estimated that a six-pack of beer in the US could cost $20 more by 2099.
Previously, researchers have examined how future climates will affect crop yields, predicting that more insects will eat crops and drought will create tougher times for coffee farmers. But this new study builds on past agricultural predictions to paint a grim picture of what the future of beer will look like.
As Inverse previously reported, a 2006 heat wave in Europe hurt barley harvests and drove up the grain’s price by 40 percent. The authors of the new study predict that this kind of crop loss will become commonplace in the coming decades if the pace of climate change continues unabated. The issue goes beyond economics, the researchers say, as pricier beer could impact people’s quality of life that they derive from simple pleasures and comforts:
“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.
Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world by volume consumed, and yields of its main ingredient, barley, decline sharply in periods of extreme drought and heat. Although the frequency and severity of drought and heat extremes increase substantially in range of future climate scenarios by five Earth system models, the vulnerability of beer supply to such extremes has never been assessed. We couple a process-based crop model (decision support system for agrotechnology transfer) and a global economic model (Global Trade Analysis Project model) to evaluate the effects of concurrent drought and heat extremes projected under a range of future climate scenarios. We find that these extreme events may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide. Average yield losses range from 3% to 17% depending on the severity of the conditions. Decreases in the global supply of barley lead to proportionally larger decreases in barley used to make beer and ultimately result in dramatic regional decreases in beer consumption (for example, −32% in Argentina) and increases in beer prices (for example, +193% in Ireland). Although not the most concerning impact of future climate change, climate-related weather extremes may threaten the availability and economic accessibility of beer.