Can we make beer that is easier on the Earth?

In today’s newsletter, Ford Foundation to divest from fossil-fuel investments; helping Florida’s wildlife; nature makes a comeback in Mozambique … and a call for volunteer ‘walrus detectives.’

This article is an adaptation of our weekly Planet Possible newsletter that was originally sent out on October 19, 2021. Want this in your inbox? Sign up here.

By Laura Parker, Senior Reporter, ENVIRONMENT

From start to finish, brewing beer is environmentally unfriendly. A single eight-ounce glass of beer takes about 20 gallons of water to produce. The brewing process requires large amounts of electricity—to heat hot water and steam and then for refrigeration.

Then there’s glass and aluminum for containers and plastic and cardboard for packaging.

But don’t despair.

Before you give up your Friday night brewski, take a look at writer Jess Craig’s report on how the beer industry is trying out new solutions to make production more sustainable. One method takes aim at transportation costs of trucking containers of product that is 95 percent water. Could beer be dehydrated, transported, and then rehydrated at its destination? Patrick Tatera, a chemical engineer, asked that very question—and then went on to found Sustainable Beverage Technologies, which is testing out BrewVo, a highly concentrated beer that is one-sixth the weight of a regular beer.

Another experiment, begun in 2013, replaces hops, which gives beer its aroma and distinctive flavor, with Berkeley Yeast, a genetically engineered yeast. Growing hops, the flower on a perennial vine, consumes oodles of water. Growing one pound of hops requires 300 to 450 gallons of water, depending on local conditions.

So when Charles Denby, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleague Rachel Li, an engineer, invented a strain of brewer’s yeast that tastes more like hops than actual hops it showed great environmental potential. Because hops has been so central to beer-making for centuries, Denby’s newfangled yeast was slow to catch on. As climate change closes in and water becomes scarce, Berkeley Yeast sells now to hundreds of breweries.

These innovations are among efforts by the larger food and beverage industry to reduce their carbon footprint, which the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says is one of the most unsustainable industries in the world.

Would you give dehydrated beer or suds reengineered with newfangled yeast a try? Let us know! 

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SMARTER PLANET

Who is most to blame for climate change? We asked newsletter readers that question last week—and 2,200 Americans in a poll with Morning Consult. Respondents to the poll blame global corporations (77 percent) and the United States (75 percent). The percentages were nearly the same among the youngest adults and Americans 65 or older. When asked about other primary polluters, 69 percent of respondents blamed China and 68 percent faulted individuals. Many emails offered similar responses. “Until we really get on board,” writes Joan Pierson, “we cannot blame other countries.” Lollie Ragana writes individuals can only do so much. “Our parts are so small compared to what industry creates. We need to turn people's minds to corporations and how they are not being held responsible for their damage to our planet.,” Ragana writes. (Pictured above, climate activists protest at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after scaling the building on October 14 in Washington, D.C.)

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: If natural disasters destroy coastal communities more frequently with climate change, to what extent should the government pay to rebuild them? When do nations help remove and resettle people from chronic destruction, as the U.S. has done in parts of Alaska and Louisiana? Or is it on the people who choose to live and stay there? What do you think?

TAKE FIVE

ONE MOMENT

Helping Florida: This image is of Big Coldwater Creek and surrounding lands, among 20,000 acres in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, which the state recognized in June. The land connects wildlife habitats and, as emphasized in the photo above, preserve and restore longleaf pine forests. The corridor has been championed by Nat Geo Explorer Carlton Ward and his Path of the Panther project, with support from the National Geographic Society.

READ MORE 

Trailblazers and changemakers wanted: National Geographic Society is accepting applications for its Explorer grants program. Explorers represent more than 140 countries and are some of our best and brightest scientists, conservationists, innovators, educators, and storytellers who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and uncovering the mysteries of the natural and cultural worlds. Learn more about the Society’s support of Explorers and apply now.

IN A FEW WORDS

FAST FORWARD

Where nature is coming back: Mozambique‘s Chimanimani region for decades was plagued for decades by guerrilla fighters, poachers, and landmines. Now birdsong fills the air, and adventurers look for elephants, hike to waterfalls, and marvel at ancient rock art. A chunk of the region has become one of the country’s newest national parks, National Geographic reports in the November issue. (Pictured above, an image by photojournalist and Nat Geo Explorer Jen Guyton of the endemic Manica sugarbush thriving in the mountainous region.)

SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE 

We hope you liked today’s Planet Possible newsletter. This was edited and curated by Monica Williams, Heather Kim, and David Beard. Have any suggestions for helping the planet or links to such stories? Let us know at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for stopping by!

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