It’s been one week since a consortium of climate scientists released a dire United Nations report urging a global restructuring of energy industries within 12 years to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. While the report galvanized worldwide efforts to confront climate change, it was also met with apathy and denial from key leaders.
But a new study from Nature Plants might have identified the one climate-related issue that can unite people from myriad political backgrounds—beer. Led by Wei Xie, an agricultural scientist at Peking University, the paper finds that regions that grow barley, the primary crop used to brew beer, are projected to experience severe droughts and heat waves due to anthropogenic climate change.
According to five climate models that used different projected temperature increases for the coming century, extreme weather events could reduce barley yields by 3 to 17 percent. Barley harvests are mostly sold as livestock fodder, so beer availability could be further hindered by the likely prioritization of grain yields to feed cattle and other farm animals, rather than for brewing beer.
The net result will be a decline in affordable access to beer, which is the most commonly imbibed alcoholic beverage in the world. Within a few decades, this luxury may be out of reach for hundreds of millions of people, including those in affluent nations where breweries are a major industry. Price spikes are estimated to range from $4 to over $20 for a standard six-pack in nations like the US, Ireland, Denmark, and Poland.
This makes beer the latest in a long line of popular drinks to be negatively affected by climate change—the wine, tea, and coffee industries also face shortages due to extreme weather and shifting growing regions.
While Xie and his colleagues acknowledge the frivolity of focusing on beer access in light of far more deadly consequences of climate change, they point to the “cross-cultural appreciation of beer” as a powerful tool for public persuasion.
“For perhaps many millennia, and still at present for many people, beer has been an important component of social gatherings and human celebration,” the team concluded. “Although it may be argued that consuming less beer is not disastrous—and may even have health benefits—there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer consumption will add insult to injury.”
In other words, if you crave a cold one at the end of a hot summer’s day now, just imagine how you’ll feel once global temperatures ratchet up a few more degrees. Granted, it may not be the most rational motivation to demand action on climate change. But the human love of beer is often credited with creating civilization, so perhaps it can save it too.
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