ASK EARTHA: Environmental Impact of Beer
Dear Eartha, does my fondness for IPAs have an environmental impact? Please don’t tell me I’ll have to forego an après-ski pint (or two) to help save the planet.
Last summer, Chicago-based research firm C+R Research did an analysis to determine which U.S. cities have the most craft breweries per capita. With five Colorado cities represented in the top 20, we live a state full of folks who love their brews – but you knew that, right? Obviously, Summit County wasn’t on the list since it’s not a city. But if it were, our seven local breweries serving a population of 30,000 people would have put us in the number five spot, right behind Boulder.
Safe to say, our community’s got a thing for craft brews. But can you raise a glass without feeling guilty? Beer drinkers rejoice – you sure can imbibe (and please remember to always drink responsibly). What should concern us is not the impact beer has on the environment, but the impact that climate change could have on beer.
The impact of that six-pack
Back in 2008, New Belgium commissioned a study to figure out the carbon footprint of a six-pack of beer. Turns out that brewing itself has minimal impact. However, refrigerating all that beer once it reaches its retail destination accounts for nearly 30 percent of a six-pack’s emissions. Even still, New Belgium learned that from production to distribution, a six-pack of Fat Tire releases about seven pounds of greenhouse gases – about the same as driving eight miles.
Considering that producing (and therefore eating) an 8-ounce steak results in 30 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, you’re better off eating less beef than cutting back on your beer consumption. Nevertheless, eco-conscious beer drinkers could reduce overall brewski emissions by purchasing beer in aluminum cans and drinking locally – the less distance your beer travels, the better!
Unfortunately, the big elephant in the tap room is climate change. Beer has four primary ingredients: grain – mostly barley, hops, yeast, and water. And according to research published in the journal Nature Plants, a future of hotter temperatures and more frequent drought brings bad news for the world’s barley crop. During especially hot and dry years, global barley production is predicted to drop as much as 17 percent, leading to dwindling beer supply. This decrease in availability would in turn cause average beer prices across the world to double, ultimately resulting in decreased consumption.
Obviously, a lack of endlessly flowing taps is the least of our worries in a world reeling from the more catastrophic impacts of climate change. But for the beer aficionado, contemplating a future without an abundance of cold brews might be enough to inspire greater concern and action.
Party for the Planet
Want to help save the planet by drinking beer? If that question seems like a complete no-brainer to you, check out High Country Conservation Center’s (HC3) Party for the Planet at the DoubleTree in Breckenridge on March 6. This festive shindig features beer tasting from five local breweries, live music, and one of the best silent auctions in Summit County. Tickets are on sale now, and admission includes unlimited beer or wine sampling, a collectible glass, and light dinner.
This year, the five brewers serving at the event are all collaborating on a limited-release Party for the Planet recipe: Green Machine, a pineapple mango IPA. You’ll be able to taste this special concoction at the event, and VIP ticket holders will have the opportunity to go home with their own bombers. After the event, you’ll find Green Machine on tap across the county, and $1 will be donated to HC3 for each pint poured.
So, savor those après-ski beers! Toast Mother Earth and support HC3’s community sustainability programs, one delicious sip at a time.