November 19, 2018
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How to get people focused on climate change

Matthias Schrader | AP
Matthias Schrader | AP
A man reaches out for a glass of beer during the opening of the 185th 'Oktoberfest' beer festival in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

Health care has the lead this election season, as the top issue for voters as they decide which candidates will get their support.

Meanwhile, climate change hasn’t really registered with voters as a top-of-mind priority, even among those who profess to care most about it.

Climate change has struggled to gain traction, even as President Donald Trump has canceled Obama-era, climate change-fighting policies and taken steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord.

It’s still far from the talk of the town, even as climate scientists with the United Nations warn that our time to keep global warming to a moderate level is running out — and soon.

And as unusually strong hurricanes have battered the Florida Panhandle and the Carolinas this fall, more Republican holdouts have been persuaded that climate change is real and likely to have a negative impact, but climate change still hasn’t busted its way to the top of political consciousness.

“It’s too remote. It’s not today. It’s not conflict,” California Gov. Jerry Brown told Politico last month.

But beer? That’s not remote. That’s something many will drink today. And if it’s threatened? Well, conflict could be in the offing.

It turns out, the threat climate change poses to people’s ability to drink beer could finally get more people to take climate change seriously and treat it as an issue that demands urgent attention.

A study published Oct. 15 in the journal Nature Plants took a look, for the first time, at how vulnerable the world’s beer supply is to severe weather such as drought and extreme heat that’s expected to grow more common as the planet warms. Yields of barley, beer’s main ingredient, drop significantly under those weather conditions, according to the researchers.

There’s little in the way of encouraging news in the findings for beer fans.

Depending on how severe weather conditions become, barley yields could drop anywhere from 3 to 17 percent under the multiple climate models the researchers examined. That would translate into major decreases in beer consumption — 32 percent less beer consumption in Argentina, for example — as well as stiff increases to the price of beer. The researchers projected a 193 percent rise in the price of beer in Ireland, which ranks sixth in the world for per-capita beer consumption.

Published just days ago, the research on climate change and the world’s beer supply has already proven pivotal.

“Not sure what to make of the fact that in one day our paper on climate and beer has garnered considerably more attention than any of my previous work on energy transitions or even air pollution deaths,” Steven J. Davis, an earth systems scientist at the University of California, Irvine, wrote on Twitter.

Altmetric, a service that rates the amount of online attention academic research attracts, already ranks the beer study in the top 5 percent of more than 12 million studies it’s tracked. It’s No. 1 for the journal in which it appeared, Nature Plants.

What is it about beer that focuses the mind on climate change more than the prospect of death? Perhaps it’s the threat to a way of life rather than just life itself.

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