Looks Like Climate Change Will Ruin Beer for Us, Too

beer and wheat
Climate change won't just cause global catastrophe, it will also make beer really, really expensive, thanks to rising barley prices, a new study finds. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If the results of last week's chilling U.N. climate report drove you to drink this weekend, first of all — we're sorry. We don't like it, either. Here's a photo of a majestic elk sneezing to make you feel better. Secondly, we hate to say it, but we've got even more bad news for anyone hoping to drown their sorrows during that apocalyptic future. According to a new study published today (Oct. 15) in the journal Nature Plants, it looks like rising global temperatures are going to ruin beer for us too — and your next pity pint could soon cost you more than a tank of gas. [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]

In the new study, an international team of researchers from China, the U.K. and the U.S. ran a series of computer models to simulate the impact that increasingly hot and arid weather will have on the world's production of barley — the primary ingredient in beer. They found that, in the worst-case scenario — that is, if current global carbon emissions levels are allowed to persist through the end of the century — the world will lose an average of 17 percent of its barley harvest, while some regions, including parts of Europe, could lose nearly half their yield. According to the researchers, that crop failure will have a severe impact on both the availability, and the price, of beer around the world.

"Our results show that in the most severe climate events, the supply of beer could decline by about 16 percent in yearswhen droughts and heat waves strike. That's comparable to all beer consumption in the U.S.," study co-author Steven Davis, associate professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement. "Future climate and pricing conditions could put beer out of reach for hundreds of millions of people around the world."

While barley is best known for its starring role in beer, the grain is mainly used as a food source for livestock; according to Davis and his colleagues, only about 17 percent of the world's barley production went to feed the beer industry in 2011. So, as global crops diminish during the extreme heat and drought events to come, barley-growing nations will have to make a tough choice about how much of the limited harvest gets fed back into agriculture, and how much gets to spend its final days as a frothy pint.

That decision will be costly. By 2099, the authors wrote, the price of beer could skyrocket by up to 656 percent of current prices, depending on the severity of the weather and the country that's picking up the tab. In Ireland, for example — a country with some of the highest per-capita beer consumption — prices are poised to increase by anywhere from 43 percent to a gobsmacking 338 percent per bottle. According to the authors, that would be like spending an extra $20 for a single six-pack of Guinness (not including inflation).

"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," Davis said. "But there is definitely a cross-cultural appeal to beer, and not having a cool pint at the end of an increasingly common hot day just adds insult to injury."

Originally published on Live Science.

Brandon Specktor

Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.