The Green Bay: For the love of alcohol

THE CANCER Research event ‘Dryathlon’ got me thinking whether giving up alcohol may help the environment, in a similar way that giving up eating as much meat would. I didn’t find much concerning the issue. I did, however, find that climate change may be negatively impacting the alcohol market. Climate change has been argued to impact many things; ice cap melting, increased severity of famines and increased flooding around parts of the world.

Alex Tanton

Alex Tanton

Global warming may also be bad news for alcohol lovers. Increased droughts in places such as California have left drinks companies scrambling to find enough water for their breweries. Barley is a concern on many brewers’ minds as in recent years, heavy rains in Australia and drought in England have damaged barely crops. Hops are also being threatened by climate change. A Czech climatologist says global warming has affected the quality of his country’s hops, a concern also voiced in eastern Germany and central Slovakia.

Beer may not be the only alcohol at stake here. Wine lovers may also be impacted with French vintners commenting that producing fine wines using the Pinot Noir grape in Burgundy is becoming more and more difficult. Additionally, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) projects an increase of 0.3 to 1.7 degrees Celsius by 2030 in Australia’s wine regions, a rise which is likely to reduce grape quality by 12 to 57 percent.

Tequila may also be impacted. The plant this drink comes from is grown in acidic volcanic soils and requires a temperate climate to allow the plant to mature to give us that “great” taste we are all used to. Hotter summers and colder winters have been recorded by tequila distillers, causing the plants to grow too quickly, failing to get all the nutrients from the soil and develop the sugar content and the acidity for the quality to be up to standard. Unlike many plants alcohol is normally derived from (grapes, barley, corn, potatoes, etc.) which can be harvested annually, agave, the plant tequila is made from, can take 10 years to mature. Considering the warming temperatures are predicted to continue, agave tequila may be a thing of the past.

Will alcohol be climate change’s new victim?

Perhaps. Luckily for many alcohol lovers, alcoholic drinks companies are taking measures to become resilient to such climate changes. In Australia for example, the Yalumba Wine Company was the winner of the most recognized Australian industry award for climate change adaptation last year. Further, many drinks companies are focussing heavily on improving their water efficiency. Irrigation technologies are being improved and saline- resistant vine roots are currently being grafted. These will mean that when a drought brings about a rise in the level of ground salt, the vines are more resilient to the change.

For now it appears the impacts of climate change to the alcohol industry may not be quite as severe as to other industries and societies. With a rapidly increasing warming however, will this mitigation be enacted quickly enough? Will such successful mitigation strategies be implemented to other areas of the world?

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