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Will your favourite drink survive climate change?

At a glance

  • Climate change is going to cause more lasting damage to humanity than it ever will to the planet itself
  • Everything, from alcoholic drinks through to the coffee we buy on the way to work, is going to be impacted by climate change
  • Zurich is working together with VICE to look at some of the ways climate change could impact our lives in the future.

When we think about climate change it’s easy to associate it with all the damage we’re causing to the planet – global warming, melting ice caps, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels, increased heatwaves and more frequent extreme weather events. But climate change isn’t just about the planet, it’s about us. Climate change is going to cause more lasting damage to humanity than it ever will to the planet itself. Earth is 4.5 billion years old and has been a ball of lava and gas before. It rained for two million years straight at one point. The planet will be fine well after we’ve gone, we’re far more fragile.

Climate change is going to cause massive disruption to things we currently take for granted. One relatively early casualty is likely to be what we drink. Everything, from alcoholic drinks through to the coffee we buy on the way to work, is going to be impacted by climate change. Got a favourite wine? Don’t expect it to taste the same for the rest of your life, some wines may cease to exist in the coming decades.

Production is already more difficult

Climate change is already hitting vineyards and hop production. Rising temperatures and increasing water scarcity could make it harder to produce all of your favourite drinks. Beer is made out of water, malted barley and hops and all three ingredients are going to be impacted by climate change. Johanna Köb, head of responsible investment for Zurich Insurance Group told VICE: “With higher temperatures, more aridity and more droughts, the production of hops and barley could go down. Then you need water which will also face shortage issues with higher temperatures. Then you need to prioritise what you produce.”

Over 200 American brewers have recently united to send a message to politicians in which they: “declare climate change a substantial and growing risk to [their] business.”

The taste of wine relies on different factors such as the soil the grapes are grown in, temperature and the altitude, and climate change is altering a lot of these. Wine might not disappear completely as grapes can be grown in hotter temperatures but the chances of your favourite French wine tasting exactly as it does today in a decade’s time are falling.

European wine producers are already experiencing impacts of climate change and have had to adapt the way they make wine. Zurich’s Köb says: “The harvest time for white and red wines has been moved forward. Because if the grapes receive more dryness, more sun and more heat they start to become more sugary. More sugar in grapes means a higher alcohol level which makes heavier wines and changes the taste.”

Water scarcity is one of the biggest threats to what we currently drink according to Köb. This isn’t just because of temperatures increasing. The increase in extreme weather events like flooding or droughts also hits water supplies. We might think drinking alcohol is important but when water gets scarce will we really use the last few drops to make booze?

Extreme weather events, such as cyclones, hurricanes and storms, also pose a threat to the distribution of our favourite drinks. With these happening more frequently the supply chains used to move booze around the planet also become more vulnerable and can break.

Without action now to bring down carbon emissions, limit global warming and tackle the root causes of climate change, we cannot expect to be consuming the same drinks we do today or for them to taste like they do now. We also can’t expect to be drinking as much as we do now with water shortages set to severely impact how much booze we can make.

Image © Getty

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