September 24, 2009

Losing Traditions in a Changing Climate

With the opening of the Arctic and alternating droughts and floods across Africa, it may not seem like recent reports of poor hop and grape yields are major security concerns. But for the armed services, traditions and rituals are a major part of life. The same is arguably true of security and foreign policy leaders throughout U.S. history (for an in-depth review see the 1980 article “Leadership and Alcohol” by Hung L'Etang).

In military campaigns throughout history, alcohol has played an important role in helping troops to supplement unsavory meal offerings. Beer has long been considered a portable source of nutrition, with Germans referring to it as “liquid bread.” French wine and German and Dutch beer often gave G.I.s a much needed lift from the trenches. Important victories in WWI and WWII were often accompanied by toasts with alcohol from the liberated regions.

Imagine if troops were looking at withered grape plots instead of drinking to their victories. With the optimal range for growing grapes so limited, diseases and hot weather are pushing grape cultivation to the brink of disaster. Winemakers are mobilizing en masse to try to change climate policy.

In my opinion, worse even than climate change affecting French vineyards is the possibility of a reduction in the hops yield. Quality could decrease an estimated 13-32% and yields could be reduced by 7-10%, a travesty for those who love Czech pilsners. If pilsners aren’t your favorite, you may still be dismayed that barley-producing regions in New Zealand are experiencing droughts as well.

Both these developments could increase the cost of wine and beer and reduce their availability. With troops, diplomats, world leaders, and your local dinner table all calling for these traditional beverages, we need to mentally prepare for a future where the finest wines come from Scotland.