The End of Drinking as We Know It
With each scientific report that’s published on the effects of climate change, our future on this planet looks more and more grim. Temperatures will rise and cities will become inhospitable ovens of death, and as the permafrost melts in the Arctic, ocean levels will flood coastal cities, leaving them to become forgotten, sunken graveyards at the bottom of the sea. Think Mad Max-esque desert dystopias and worldwide chaos. And, if you were counting on a Martini or glass of Champagne to help get you through the end times, we have some bad news.
As climate change begins to wreak havoc on our planet, one of the first things to disappear from our lives will be food as we know it today. As crops die out and become extinct (or so rare that only a select few have enough money to buy them) our entire drinking culture at large could become a thing of the past. If global warming continues its current course unchecked, its effects on our planet could make distilled alcohol, wine and cocktails relics of the 21st century.
Say Farewell To Whiskey
If the country's corn crops die out, so too will the whiskey industry.
The United States’s biggest agricultural product is corn. Oddly enough, most of the corn that we produce is not actually eaten in the manner you would think. Corn is primarily used as feed to sustain the production of livestock (chickens, cows, pigs, etc.), cooked into corn syrup, or turned into fuel. Commercial corn is also used for the production of big bourbon brands like Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels or any LDI whiskey on the market that’s disguised as a craft label.
The Corn Belt, a section of the Midwestern United States that includes Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Kansas, dedicates over 96 million acres of land to growing corn. The lack of natural barriers in these states, like hills or mountains, makes the Corn Belt very susceptible to extreme weather, flooding and drought. And that’s with our current climate.
According to the Department of Agriculture, the average temperature across the Midwest has increased by 1.5 degrees on average since 1900 (the period from 1990 to the early 2000s not only had the highest increases in temperature, it was also the warmest period in the region’s history) and the number of severe storms has increased per year. In the southernmost parts of the Corn Belt, winter has decreased in length (plants need a cool season to properly bud and produce crops in the spring), rainfall has dropped dramatically, and the summer is longer and hotter.
Although longer growing seasons and warmer weather does equate to faster growing plants, it also results in plants producing smaller crop yields and immature crops that lack the starches, sugar or nutrients needed to produce actual ears of corn. The hotter the temperatures get, the more water corn needs to produce ears and stay alive. As the plants fight for survival in a drought, they will pull any remaining water and nutrients from the soil, which will eventually kill all the plants and leave arid, lifeless earth. If corn goes, it will take the entire ecosystem (and everything it produces) with it. You’ll not only be eating a lot less red meat, you also won’t have that glass of whiskey to wash it down.
Bid Adieu to Wine
As the climate warms, insects like aphids and moths could infect and kill our wine grapes.
In the last 200 years we’ve already had one catastrophic event that emptied our wine glasses and nearly laid waste to the European wine industry. In the late 1850s, a North American species of aphid traveled across the Atlantic to Europe on a grapevine cutting. This non-indigenous species of aphid bred, spread and destroyed over 40 percent of France’s vineyards in a 15-year span.
According to a study conducted by UC Davis, which looked into the correlation between pests, vineyards and global warming, “increasing temperatures allow for higher rates of growth and reproduction in insect herbivores.” It goes on to say that studies on “aphids and moths have shown that increasing temperatures allow insects to reach their minimum flight temperature sooner and aid in their increased dispersal capabilities.” Ultimately, shorter, less frosty winters could be the harbinger of a biblical plague of aphids or moths, wiping out vines in areas most affected by global warming.
If clouds of insects eating crops aren’t terrifying enough, a rise in the Earth’s temperature could also result in an over-saturation of vines’ roots due to an increase in severe storms. With over-saturation, there is in an increase in rot and the spread of mildew, which can heavily damage grapes and result in low yields of fruit. Conversely, severe drought, another possibility, would cause the plant to essentially shut down and use all available nutrients for its own survival rather than producing delicious grapes.
The future of wine may not be entirely doomed—just the future of wine as we know it. “When you think about how there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years for wine, it’s crucial that you remember how sensitive the grapes and, eventually, the wine are to changes in the climate,” says Marcia DeLonge, a senior scientist in the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “As weather and climate patterns shift, some new grapes may become available that can withstand the changes to the climate—but some of our collective favorites certainly could disappear.” That could mean a future with no more Champagne brunches or rosé fountains—start panicking, millennials.
Wave Bye-Bye to Screwdrivers
The Asian Citrus Psyllid, a microscopic insect, is already bringing about the demise of our country's citrus.
Sadly, we’re already seeing an assault on our citrus, and it’s only going to get worse. In Florida, citrus farmers’ crops are being destroyed by Citrus Greening Disease, also known by its Chinese name, Huanglongbing (HLB). The disease is carried by an invasive species of insect known as Asian Citrus Psyllid. Once the insect infects the citrus tree after snacking on it, the disease cuts off the flow of nutrients in the tree, resulting in juiceless, sour, premature fruit and then, often, death. After the bugs and the disease hit Florida, spreading from tree to tree, they migrated across the continent, to California’s citrus groves. Unless we find a cure for the disease, as the climate warms even more—giving the bug a chance to thrive in more and more regions—it could cause the a catastrophic genocide of citrus trees worldwide.
If the bugs don’t get the trees, there are other things that will. Citrus trees are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. A dramatic, permanent heat wave in areas that currently grow citrus could result in trees that produce less fruit. When there are shorter cold spells and longer growing seasons, citrus trees grow fruit faster and grow more buds, but less buds actually reach full maturity. Smaller citrus that is less developed is not only unpalatable and sour, it has dramatically less juice. Ten underdeveloped limes won’t even produce enough juice for one Daiquiri. Even if colder climates warmed enough to grow citrus, it’s possible that the soil could not have the necessary composition or nutrients to suit the fickle trees. As a result, we may have to use artificial, powdered citrus, or Tang in our cocktails in the next century.
Kiss Your Irish Coffee Goodbye
Widespread climate change in South America and Africa is killing off our coffee supply with a hyper-resistant strain of fungus.
In South America and Africa, coffee growers are already battling with climate change in order to keep their crops alive and producing beans. By the end of this century, most scientists and coffee farmers predict that coffee production could be scaled down so much that it will either be extremely expensive or only available for consumption on a small, local scale (or both).
In Ethiopia, the largest coffee producer in Africa (and the fifth largest coffee producer in the world), the dry seasons have become longer and more extreme, causing hundreds of coffee plants to die. Coffee plants are extremely sensitive to altitude and heat and thrive best in temperatures ranging from 15 to 26 degrees Celsius (59-78 Fahrenheit) and altitudes between 1200 and 2200 meters. While the Ethiopian government and farmers are making efforts to move plantations to higher altitudes, where the temperature is cooler and there is more rainfall, the land available for production continues to shrink. It’s also not an easy task. Relocation takes money and resources—which farmers don’t have. According to NPR, Ethiopia could lose anywhere from 39 percent to 59 percent of its current coffee-growing areas to climate change by 2101.
In Nicaragua, climate change is affecting coffee production in another way. Hemileia vastatrix, the coffee rust fungus (known by locals as roya), is decimating coffee plants. The disease cannot survive in temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius, and in Nicaragua's lush mountainsides where coffee is grown, the disease was kept at bay by cold nights and dry weather. As temperatures rise in South America, the only coffee plants that are spared a gruesome death are at the highest altitudes. Once the disease infects the plants, the leaves turn from a vibrant green to a rotten pumpkin orange—or rusty brown (hence the name). The infection then wilts the leaves and spreads to the fruit, rotting the coffee beans before they fully mature. According to the Guardian, by 2050, the Nicaraguan government predicts that “80% of their current coffee growing areas will no longer be usable.” While the disease can be cured with pruning and chemicals, the pesticides necessary for eradication are expensive and extremely hazardous to both the land and humans.
In Brazil, the single largest coffee producer in the world, the bean could become eradicated due to severe drought—or fires. In São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city, the most recent drought lasted for a span of four years. The drought was the worst in over 80 years, and led to blackouts and rioting. Its effects on agriculture— primarily coffee—were equally disastrous. Some farmers lost over 90 percent of their crops due to lack of water. And it is destined to get worse. As droughts become more catastrophic and last for longer periods of time, the Amazon rainforest could become a kindling box. Whether started naturally or by humans, vast stretches of the rainforest could become engulfed in devastating flames. A recent fire burned for two months straight. Fire affects not only the farmers cultivating crops in the fertile forests, but they also pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and destroy one of the Earth’s primary, natural carbon filters. In a year, the Amazon rainforest alone absorbs almost 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. If the Amazon burns, our lack of morning coffee and Espresso Martinis will be the least of our worries.
How We Can Take Action To Prevent The End of Enjoyable Drinking (and Help Save the World)
After absorbing everything you just read, you may be thinking that climate change is no longer preventable and that the damage done to the planet is irreversible. And you may be right. Unless we take up our own personal crusade against climate change in our daily lives—and our governments respond with action and policy—our course is set and the future is inevitable. But there’s still a chance to fight. “The easiest way to help address this problem is to do everything you can to waste less food,” says DeLonge. “For every forkful of food wasted, everything that went into producing, packaging and transporting that food went to waste."
It’s crucial that when we buy our food and drink our cocktails, we do so with climate change in mind. The eradication of these crucial crops won’t just destroy our current food system, or bring an end to cocktails, hard liquor, beer and wine. The loss of our food staples will cause millions of people to lose their livelihood and will bring economic hardship worldwide. In Africa alone, some 15 million Ethiopians depend on the production of coffee for their living. And in Nicaragua, coffee farmers already affected by climate change aren't selling enough crops to feed their families. This fact alone is infinitely more important than having a tasty cocktail in hand, but if that’s the push you need to take action against climate change, then go forth and fight for your right to a Whiskey Sour.