Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of April  21, 2008)


Hard choices ahead


  By John Martin

If it had showed up a week earlier it surely would have been a better than average April Fool's Day joke. But apparently the news release from New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research is completely legitimate. Dr. Jim Salinger warns that climate change could cause a dramatic reduction in beer production within the next 25 years. He warns of bars with no beer, astronomical price increases and no solution other than immediate attention to climate change.

Specifically, Salinger cautioned that water shortages would result in the shrinking supply of barley malt. If he's correct, then it will surely mean less beer that costs more. Some of the smaller craft brewers are already running into problems as it's getting difficult to find and afford the quality grain required to make specialty products. Several years of poor harvests, droughts in barley producing jurisdictions and other factors have resulted in the cost of malted barley doubling in recent times.

This news comes a short time after brewers were recently hit with a serious shortage of hops and skyrocketing prices. Brewers are scrambling to find new sources and desperately trying to stockpile bulk purchases. The shortage has already made an impact at many brewpubs and small operations. Any seasoned beer drinker with a palate that goes beyond mass-produced, industrial swill has probably noted some of their favourite ales taste different as brewers have to alter recipes and use substitute hops.

It's difficult to ascertain how much all this is due to climate change. A massive fire in the hop-producing region of Yakima obviously has something to do with it. Australia's barley industry has been devastated by drought and water shortages are expected to continue. Can these phenomena be explained by climate change?

It gets more complicated. There's considerable interest and investigation into establishing more barley-based ethanol production facilities; in other words, turning barley into ethanol fuel. With a looming shortage, we may end up having to choose if that barley is going into our beer, or our cars. Never mind drinking and driving - the next big debate will be drinking OR driving.

Clearly though, we are going to see more food crops converted into fuel crops as growers switch to the more lucrative market. This is happening in a major way in Germany and has resulted in a 25 per cent increase in the price of many of the country's most popular beers.

Notwithstanding, it's the threat of beerless pubs that frighteningly resonates. Not that this comes as a total surprise. Fifty years ago, Gordon Parson, a songwriter with a thirst for the ages, foretold of these potentially troubling times in his famous drinking song, "The Pub with No Beer." 

The last verse in particular, strikes a nerve:

It's lonesome away from your kindred and all.

By the campfire at night where the wild dingos call.

But there's nothin' so lonesome, so dull or so drear.

Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


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