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Could a Warming Planet Harm Colorado's Craft Brewers?

November 21, 2011

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Climate extremes are getting more common, a new report says, and the planet is getting warmer.

More than 200 scientists from 62 countries worked on the report for the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The project is seeking ways to manage and reduce disaster risk because of a changing global environment, attempting in part to improve sustainability for crops and other agricultural products.

In Colorado, one of those products is craft beer. Fort Collins' New Belgium Brewery has been creating specialty brews since 1991, and sustainability director Jenn Orgolini says the brewer is seeing evidence of a changing climate.

"This is not a problem that's going to happen someday, and this is not a problem that's just going to impact some industries. If you drink beer now, the issue of climate change is impacting you right now."

Some of those impacts include higher prices for raw materials or scarcer products such as specialty hops. Orgolini says more beer is produced in Colorado - from craft brewers to major players such as Coors and Anheuser Busch - than in any other state.

The Carnegie Institution for Science's Chris Field, co-chair of one of the IPCC working groups which developed the report, says a changing climate translates into more extreme weather - from more tornadoes and stronger winter storms to more devastating droughts and heat waves.

"What is currently a heat wave that occurs only one year in 20, by the end of the century might occur every one to two years. "

Orgolini is worried that the trend could continue. This year, she says, weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest meant that hops New Belgium normally uses simply weren't available.

"Craft brewers: The emphasis there is on craft. We make something and it's a deeply agricultural product. So we are tied to the seasons, the productivity of the land and, of course, water, which is so important here in Colorado."

Brewers aren't the only ones concerned, she says. The variability which characterizes climate change could impact all sorts of agricultural products, including other beverages such as coffee and wine.

The full report is online at ipcc.ch.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO