Beer, the most popular alcoholic drink in the world, consumes around 17% of global barley production, but this share varies across major beer-producing countries; 83% in Brazil to 9% in Australia.

What if global warming hits and temperatures rise more than 0.1 Celsius that has happened so far? Less barley, less beer. The vulnerability of beer supply to such extremes has never been assessed but a new estimate is sure to spur action, at least if you believe in estimates.

Climate change estimates predict a tange of frequency and severity of drought and heat extremes and a new computer model says there could be potential average yield losses ranging from 3% to 17%, depending on the severity of the conditions. If that happens, global beer consumption would decline by 16%, or 60 billion bottles, which is equal to everyone in the U.S. not having beer. Beer prices would double. Mass hysteria.

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In the low end of their estimate, beer consumption might drop by 4% and prices might rise by 15%. Like barley use, that varies across countries. China is the largest consuming country of just about everything at this point, so beer there would fall by 9 billion bottles a year. Consumption in the US could decrease by between 2 billion and 6 billion bottles. Argentina would have a 32% reduction, a billion bottles. 

Dabo Guan, humanities scholar at University of East Anglia, said, “While the effects on beer may seem modest in comparison to many of the other - some life-threatening - impacts of climate change, there is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer. It may be argued that consuming less beer isn’t itself disastrous, and may even have health benefits. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury.”

Citation: Wei Xie, Wei Xiong, Jie Pan, Tariq Ali, Qi Cui, Dabo Guan, Jing Meng, Nathaniel D Mueller, Erda Lin, and Steven J Davis, ‘Decreases in global beer supply due to extreme drought and heat’, Nature Plants. DOI: 10.1038/s41477-018-0263-1.