By Joshua Blanco
In Western North Carolina, craft beer is considered an art. And as artists channel their talent into creating educational messages on climate change, brewers across the region are following suit.
New Belgium Brewing, equal parts founder and leader in the craft beer industry, launched an advertising campaign charging $100 for a six-pack of their famous Fat Tire beer—the price we can expect to pay in 2070 if we fail to get our climate crisis under control. And even though the stunt lasted for only one day, it was enough to raise eyebrows. “Once you start talking about the prices of things, people start paying attention,” says Michael Craft, community and communications ambassador at New Belgium in Asheville.
According to Craft, the price was based on a study published in Nature that assessed the implications of global warming on beer production. “Beer is an agricultural product,” he says. “And climate change is a real threat. We already see its effects in our supply chain.”
Extreme fluctuations in weather patterns can lead to lessened quality and availability of essential beer ingredients, which in turn leads to higher production costs. Barley crops, for example, have been damaged by seasons of drought followed by periods of heavy rain. Because barley’s growth is limited to a specific geography, the shortages deal a heavy blow to the entire industry.
As if that weren’t enough, ravaging wildfires have also burned crops and wreaked havoc on water supply—arguably the most important ingredient in making a good product. “Without quality water, we can’t make quality beer,” Craft says.
Luckily, Asheville is home to one of the cleanest watersheds in the US. But despite an environmentally conscious voter base, the city is not immune.
New Belgium sustainability specialist Sarah Fraser says that when it comes to saving the environment, the company isn’t wasting any time. “It’s been part of our DNA from the beginning,” she says. The $100 six-pack campaign, in addition to raising awareness of the effect of climate change on the craft beer industry, was also meant to bring attention to the success of New Belgium’s Fat Tire Amber Ale as America’s first certified carbon-neutral beer.
The Asheville location also uses state-of-the-art, energy-efficient equipment and is taking steps to drastically reduce its shipping footprint.
But even if every brewery were to go carbon neutral, the results on our climate would be virtually insignificant. Fraser says the best thing people can do for their brewers and for the planet is to use their voice to elect individuals willing to take a stance.
But as Craft puts it, “It’s not just about voting at the polls. It’s voting with your wallet.” Buying products from companies that take initiative is just another one of the many ways we can achieve a healthy ecosystem. Because if we don’t, that six-pack of Fat Tire might just ring in at $100 a pop. Whether or not that happens is up to us.
“Climate experts keep telling us we don’t have many more years to turn the tide,” Fraser says. “That’s the reason we’re doing all this work—to really focus on this now and turn the ship around.”
More information on New Belgium Brewing sustainability practices can be found on its website, NewBelgium.com. Visit Nature.com to read the study that inspired the campaign.