Action 36. Brew Beer.

Ok, I know what you are thinking: how can you possibly claim for a climate change action an activity which produces carbon dioxide? Yes, valid point. But I am using this action a bit more metaphorically. Well I did literally brew some beer today, but I mean metaphorically in the sense that I’m thinking about actions we can take to be more self-sustaining.

Americans arguably have never been more detached from their kitchens and their food supply chain than they are today. At the same time, locavorism and do-it-yourselfedness is undergoing a quiet revolution in several parts of the country. I am a huge fan of growing, cooking, canning and preserving my own food. Folks like Jamie Oliver, Mark Bittman, and Michael Pollan, who revel in and explore our deep connections between our plates and the land, are my personal heroes. Lately I’ve been experimenting a bit with fermentation, and for the past year or so, I’ve been foraying into brewing. Making stuff yourself, particularly from local or home-grown ingredients, can be a great way to shrink your carbon footprint in several ways because:

  • your foods are trucked only a short distance or if from your garden, not at all, reducing the carbon emissions of transportation involved in getting your food to you
  • eating local often (though not always) means eating from smaller scale farms that tend to be less energy intensive in terms of chemical applications and mechanical harvesting, and tends to be more efficient in terms of the amount of food that gets to you vs. spoils or is otherwise discarded
  • when you can, preserve and brew, you are using and reusing durable, sustainable packaging, such as glass bottles and jars, into which your prepared food is placed and stored, and once its used, you can just wash out and re-use the container again pretty much forever

Now, back to my original activity, beer brewing. Unfortunately, my beer is probably not that local because I buy whatever malt, grain and hops that are available from my local brewing store (but it does beg a really interesting question of where that stuff comes from, and I shall ask next time I go to the store!). But I have been using and reusing the same bottles for brewing for the past year or so, minus those we lose as presents given to friends (somehow, however, we always seem to get some back in return- that’s good karma!). It’s interesting to see that some folks have actually looked at carbon emissions from beer, like this guy here, who argues that in fact our CO2 production associated with the 23 billion liters of beer Americans drink each year (wow!) is not negligible. In fact if you believe his arguments, CO2 production associated with beer approaches a tenth of one percent of our annual carbon emissions. I haven’t recrunched his numbers to know how on-target he is with this estimate. But regardless,  I agree that our beer consumption is substantive and the consequent CO2 production is worth considering. However, as one of his commenters pointed out, unlike fossil fuels which burn stuff that is not renewable, this system is based on a renewable resource, grain, which captures carbon during growth, so from a lifecycle perspective, beer is a much better deal than gas. Tastier, too :-).


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