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Activists, Beer Enthusiasts Find Common Ground in Climate Change

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Activists, Beer Enthusiasts Find Common Ground in Climate ChangePhotos by Jesse Bethea.
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They crowded into the small annex in the Land-Grant brewery in Franklinton, lovers of hops and barley and the Earth on which they grow, come to hear a four-person panel discussion on how climate change threatens everyone’s favorite beverage. This was the latest and last Defend Our Beer event put on by Defend Our Future Ohio. The nonpartisan activist group is a project of the Environmental Defense Fund, which will pull out of Ohio in the next two weeks, according to the group’s state organizer, Christianna Dyer.

“I’m really sad to see it go, I’ve been with it a long time, and of course it’s something that I’m super passionate about, I’m really sad to see it leaving,” said Dyer.

Wednesday’s Defend Our Beer was the final of what Dyer called “a staple of our organization.”

“The people that we know in our age range love beer, and beer is actually really impacted by the environment,” said Dyer. “A lot of times people who aren’t necessarily interested in science or aren’t necessarily interested in politics don’t want to go into the realms of talking about climate change and the importance of climate change. And so pulling in an aspect like beer… you can take something that everybody can enjoy and really pull in the environmental aspects about it and that way people can actually really understand it.”

Representatives from the Ohio Environmental Council and Wolf’s Ridge Brewing.

On hand Wednesday night were Kristy Meyer, Vice President of Policy for Natural Resources at the Ohio Environmental Council, Cody Patton, an Ohio State University graduate student studying the environmental history of the beer industry, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing owner Alan Szuter and Wolf’s Ridge head brewer Chris Davison. Davison spoke of the myriad of ways the changing climate can disrupt the brewing process. Humid, wet summers cause hops to mature late and mildew. Extreme summer heat can strain the wort chillers. Crop failure can force brewers to import grain from overseas. All of it can ruin the sort of beer quality that brewers like Davison take pride in.

“I take great insult when something like climate change or the quality of the water that I have less control over is going to throw all that out the window and change the product that I have,” said Davison.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, beer is not the most important thing threatened by climate change. Szuter spoke to this when he told the crowd, “This really boils down to a moral issue for our society.”

“Not to mention all the things that happen if we don’t protect our environment, the impact it’s going to have on the lower socioeconomic classes, the potential for civil strife,” said Szuter later. “These are all real issues, so I believe this is a moral issue from that standpoint. Morals trump business issues.”

Szuter called the supposed conflict between business and environmentalism a “false dichotomy” and spoke of how the craft beer industry must live up to its reputation for progressivism.

“I don’t think that’s something that craft beer chose to do… It’s not that craft beer chooses to be progressive, it’s that the people who make up craft beer have made it that way,” said Szuter

Davison said that sometimes when new brewers develop a business plan, “sustainability isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind.” But now craft breweries are becoming more aware of sustainability, incorporating environmental consciousness into their business models, and sharing that knowledge across the industry. Szuter intends for Wolf’s Ridge to continue improving the sustainability of its operations and share the story of those efforts.

“One of the things about change is that the more people become aware that there is change occurring… the more open they are to change, and so if you continue to communicate that, you have a much greater possibility of affecting the change,” said Szuter.  

For more information, visit theoec.com.

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