Climate change barley Armageddon is just beer-mongering

by Beer

2008 was the 15th coldest year or the 10th warmest year depending on which group you get your temperature information from (Univ. of Alabama or NOAA).  I’ll totally side-step the issue and just assume global warming will happen for argument’s sake.  If we take this stance, is our beloved beverage in danger?

malt grain

Warmer temperatures usually mean longer growing seasons. Barley will grow somewhere, so we will still have beer.

Warmer means a longer growing season

Warmer temperatures usually means a longer growing season and more places to grow grain.  An example in history would be Greenland where settlers grew grain until an ice age forced them to retreat back to Europe.  You’d think this would mean more barley which translates to more beer not less.  Canada and Russia are the top two producers of barley, and warmer temperatures could be beneficial for barley cultivation in these countries.

Barley is one of the oldest cultivated crops in human history.  Barley has been gathered or cultivated for thousands of years in the Middle East, Far East, North Africa and east-central Africa (where it presumably gets hot).  The reason barley is so successful is because of its ability to adapt to a very wide range of soil and climate conditions.

Higher temperatures might affect winter barley.  This barley is planted in the fall and requires cold temperatures to properly grow grains.  The winter barleys are six-row barleys.  These are used in some beers, but usually two-row is preferred because the grains are much larger and produce more extract.  Six-row barley is usually used as feed for stock.  Despite the colder temperatures, two-row spring barleys predominate in Canada.

last beer ever

Is this the end of beer as we know it?

Beer production affected world-wide?

Through this week many websites ran with the story saying global warming would mean the end of beer in 30 years.  They even run with the quote “”It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up.”  You really had to dig around to find a site to explain “how”.  Luckily several of the stories referenced the person who claimed beer was doomed.

When you go back to see what Jim Salinger, a climate scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, really said, it is a slightly different story.  He said “climate change likely will cause a decline in the production of malting barley in parts of New Zealand and Australia”.  That’s a far cry from “world wide” which many websites are claiming.  He theorizes Australia and New Zealand will become drier, providing fewer places to grow grain.

Australia is the fourth largest producer of barley and New Zealand is not even in the top 22 barley producing countries.  If Australia could not grow any grain at all it would hurt the industry, but it does not mean grain could not be grown anywhere else.

The real problem is not temperatures will be higher.  The problem in Australia is the climate change could mean drier conditions, at least this is what the scientist is theorizing.  Drier conditions would mean less crops, especially if they are using a dryland cropping system.

Just scare tactics

The reality is beer is not going to disappear.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief.  If we could not grow barley anywhere, we’d have bigger problems (i.e. – we’d all starve).   If you can’t grow barley, it’s not likely anything will grow.  Climate change is extraordinarily complicated.  A negative change in one location could be offset by a positive change in another location.  If your barley is irrigated, studies suggest increased CO2 could result in an increase in yield.  And unless it gets ridiculously hot, like Venus, it is going to rain somewhere.

The beer extinction is just scare mongering and Greenpeace is hitching on to this idea.  Their “save the ales” campaign is an attempt to show global warming could affect even the smallest parts of our life, even if this argument is silly.  They want to energize the college campuses around America, and what better way than tell college kids their beer could be gone.  I’d think about joining if I thought all beer was at stake, wouldn’t you?

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!