Resilience: Renewable Brewers Will Adapt/Mitigate Climate Change

October 19, 2018

The intersection of Climate and Beer.

Key Takeaways: We have to mitigate climate warming as much as we can, but we must be ready to adapt to the changes that are already baked in.

Above, Budweiser commits to 100 percent renewable brewing.

Fast Company:

Last March, AB InBev announced every single bottle of beer it brews will be done with renewable energy by 2025. The company is making progress on that pledge and by this spring, every bottle of Budweiser brewed in the U.S. will be made with renewable electricity. This week the brand is unveiling a new symbol it will be putting on each bottle produced with 100% renewable energy.


AB InBev is using Budweiser, its flagship brand and the globe’s biggest international beer brand, to drive its renewable energy program, both internally and in its goal to encourage more companies to sign on to similar goals and adopt the new emblem. Every day around the world, 41 million Budweisers are sold, and the company says switching to renewable electricity in Bud brewing operations is the equivalent of taking 48,000 cars off the road every year.


Research published this week predicting that beer prices could double as rising global temperatures and more volatile weather cause shortages of barley created a big splash. Twitter users and major news outlets widely circulated the dire headlines. But brewers and barley growers say you shouldn’t drown your sorrows just yet: They have a plan.

The paper, published Monday in the journal Nature Plants, warns of “serious supply disruptions” of barley. Analyzing several possible climate change scenarios, the authors find that global yields could drop 17 percent during severe droughts and heat waves in the future and that beer prices could spike calamitously.

However, some in the beer industry think the findings are overblown.

“While climate change is a cause for concern, this study isn’t a great indicator of what is going to happen in the real world,” says Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, a trade group based in Boulder, Colo. Watson believes the industry — especially the agricultural sector — will adapt as the planet’s climate changes, thereby avoiding such significant impacts.

So does Dwight Little, president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, which represents wheat and barley farmers in Idaho, the country’s top barley-growing state.

“If warming happens as they say it will, my impression is that it will come in small, incremental increases over a long time, and that allows farmers time to change,” he says.

In their paper, a team of 10 scientists from China, Britain, the United States and Mexico warn that crop damage from worsening droughts and heat waves could cause global beer production to tumble by 16 percent. This will cause global beer prices to increase, possibly doubling on average. The research also warns that a serious hit to barley yields will disproportionately impact brewers. That’s because livestock farmers who feed barley to their animals will be forced into competition with beer producers for limited supplies of the grain. And, under such economic conditions, beer will lose.

“Our analysis showed us that we’re probably going to prioritize the food over the luxury beverage,” Steven Davis, a co-author of the paper and an associate professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, tells The Salt. “In many cases, the affluent consumers will just pay more for their beer, but someone’s going to have to do without the barley, and it looks like the beer industry as a whole will do with less.”

Overall, consumption could drop by 29 billion liters. That’s about how much beer Americans drank in 2011, according to the research.

The study corroborates prior findings about grains and climate change. A 2017 study from the University of California, Davis predicted that higher temperatures in spring and summer could reduce the yields of many grains important to beer by the end of the century. It predicted winter wheat yields would drop by 21 percent, winter barley by 17.3 percent and spring barley by 33.6 percent.



8 Responses to “Resilience: Renewable Brewers Will Adapt/Mitigate Climate Change”

  1. grindupbaker Says:

    So then I’ll hugely increase my beer consumption to help out a bit.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      yeah, chuck the microbrews and quaff Bud light – unless your local brewery is solar (some are)

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Frankly I prefer drinking beer from bottles, but the more environmentally friendly choice would be to choose something on tap.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    “However, some in the beer industry think the findings are overblown”.

    Same old story—-deny and delay until it’s too late. What part of “…It predicted winter wheat yields would drop by 21 percent, winter barley by 17.3 percent and spring barley by 33.6 percent” don’t they understand?. And don’t forget that corn and rice yields will be dropping also.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I think it’s plausible that new commercially viable varieties of grains will be coming into production fairly soon. I know they’re looking at salt-tolerant rice for SE Asia coastal farming and “dry rice” for drought-prone central Asia. There is comparable work being done on other grains for mass-production.

      [As an aside: One episode of the Indicator podcast tells how Japan has wacky subsidies for their traditional rice crop, but recently more farmers are growing cattle feed rice due to a strange inversion of the market.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Short-term fiddling with the genes of plants that have taken many millions of years to evolve is at best a stopgap measure (IF it even works at all). Plants need soil-minerals-air-water-sun-certain temperatures in certain combinations to grow and thrive. We are kidding ourselves if we think we can screw up that evolved condition in just ~200 years and then fix it in a couple of decades of “smartness” and “applied technology”. Mother Nature does NOT like what we humans have done, is telling us in many ways, and is swinging her bats in the warm up circle.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Short-term fiddling with the genes of plants that have taken many millions of years to evolve is at best a stopgap measure (IF it even works at all).

          “Fiddling with the genes” is phrased to make it seem that these are ad hoc practices rather than an established research discipline.

          And while the cumulative features of an organism may have gotten that way over “many millions of years”, gene evolves ONCE, and in the wild the success of the gene depends on the stress of its environment. We know of many GMOs (whether crossbred or engineered) which work fine, the most famous of which is golden rice. GMO technology is maturing*, and more experts are graduating all the time.

          Seed banks have varieties known for features we want. It still takes time, money and effort to do the work of isolating the features that make a plant drought-tolerant, or salt-tolerant, or higher in a specific nutrient, but there’s already work in the pipeline.

          *E.g., third party companies making the standardized sequencing machines, so you don’t have to do everything in-house.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Genes evolve ONCE? Really? That aside, I AM glad that you DO understand that “It still takes time, money and effort to do the work of isolating the features that make a plant drought-tolerant, or salt-tolerant, or higher in a specific nutrient”,

            The question is whether we have enough time and enough people working on the problem (which, whether you like it or not, is wishful thinking and bright-sidedly ignorant of the biology—beware of Mother Nature’s bats)

            Of course, the key word there is TIME, since a “fiddled with” plant must grow and produce seed, and the seed must be planted and grown to see how genes express themselves in the “new” plant. It is NOT some overnight, whiz-bang, plug-in-a-gene, “mature” technology, but a long, often tedious process that can take years.

            If you want to understand this better, read the terrific book about William Vogt and Norman Borlaug (who has been called the Father of the Green Revolution for his plant breeding). Book reads like a novel—-one of the best I’ve read. A review here:

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