Warming Trends: A Global Warming Beer Really Needs a Frosty Mug, Ghost Trees in New York and a Cooking Site Gives Up Beef

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

A New Belgium brewer Andrew checks the water level of sparge bath at the brewery Credit: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images
A New Belgium brewer checks the water level of sparge bath at the brewery. Credit: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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A Taste of Climate-Changed Beer

It’s the year 2050, and you’re sipping warm beer. There’s been an energy outage at the brewery and the refrigerators aren’t working. The brew has a smoky flavor from water that’s been tainted by a wildfire. And it’s missing the sweetness and freshness you remember. 

After you finish the beer, your mouth tastes funny. The unpleasant aftertaste lingers.

That’s a future that New Belgium Brewing wants its customers to see now, so that they take action to prevent climate change from contaminating the key ingredients needed to make beer. To do this, the brewery, known for its Fat Tire amber ale, created a brew called “Torched Earth,” using low-grade ingredients like dandelion root instead of fresh hops, malt extract instead of malted barley and smoke-tainted water instead of a purified supply. 

“We were trying to figure out what more we can do to accelerate action on climate,” said Katie Wallace, director of sustainability for New Belgium. “What we came up with is to tell that story through our beer, because climate change is a really complex topic, you can’t always see what’s happening day to day. We wanted to help bring to light what it would look like if we don’t do something now to stop the worst effects of climate change.”


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This problem isn’t an exaggeration, Wallace said. It’s a reality for breweries across the country when climate disaster strikes. New Belgium has already faced shortages that threatened their production. For example, one year a massive hurricane destroyed several citrus crops, leading to a shortage in which the brewery almost couldn’t get orange peels for its beers with citrus flavoring.

New Belgium is calling on its customers to demand that all Fortune 500 companies come up with meaningful plans to reduce their contributions to climate change. As a mid-sized business, Wallace said, New Belgium can only do so much.

“Human behavior is often driven by immediate experiences, and what we’re doing is avoiding those immediate experiences down the road,” she said. “It’s a really interesting experiment for people to say, ‘Oh, wow, this is what it could look like.’ So we see the motivation for wanting to do something growing from that.”


Ghost Forest to Haunt the Big Apple

A forest of dead trees is coming to Midtown Manhattan.

Dozens of 40-foot-tall dead Atlantic cedar trees will tower in a dense forest grove in Madison Square Park for an art installation by artist and architect Maya Lin that begins May 10, and is intended to show how climate change and other environmental crises will change forest landscapes.

Lin wanted to bring to New York the story of ghost forests—swaths of trees that have all died in the same extreme event, often related to climate change. For her installation, called “Ghost Forest,” she collected 49 dead trees from the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a forest that has suffered from saltwater intrusion and sea level rise as a result of climate change.

The “Ghost Forest” installation will be in Madison Square Park from May until November. Credit: Maya Lin Studio

The trees will stand in the park until November, and the exhibition will be highlighted with several in-person and virtual events.

Lin’s installation also has an auditory component. By scanning a QR code at the park, visitors can listen to a collection of sounds arranged by Lin and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, featuring birds and other animals that were once common in Manhattan but that are now rare or completely absent.

Lin said it’s important that visitors take away a sense of hope and hear a call to action. In the fall, Lin will join the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the Natural Areas Conservancy to plant 1,000 trees in public parks in the five boroughs, which she said will offset all of the carbon emitted while creating her installation.

Visitors should feel a sense of loss while observing Ghost Forest, Lin said, “as well as hope, and as well as a haunting sense of beauty and how majestic and in awe we should be of these incredible trees.”


A New Narrative About Partisan Response to Environmental Stories

Democrats are more likely to adopt environmentally friendly behaviors after hearing a compelling story than after hearing simple facts, a new study found. Republicans, on the other hand, were more responsive to scientific data than to emotional narratives.

The research, conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins University and published in One Earth this week, involved an experiment with 1,200 people in Delaware who had a lawn or a garden in a polluted watershed. The participants were shown a video containing either scientific facts about nutrient pollution, or a heartbreaking story about a veteran who died after eating contaminated shellfish from the local watershed, possibly as a result of such contamination. 

After watching the video, the participants could choose whether to buy a product that would reduce the nutrient runoff from their property and minimize their contribution to the pollution, while the experimenters used a random-price auction to determine how much people were willing to spend.

The study found that in the group that watched the story about the man’s death, liberals were willing to spend 17 percent more than their counterparts in the group that saw the fact-based video. Conservatives, on the other hand, were actually willing to spend 14 percent less after seeing that video than those in the group that saw the fact-based film.

Co-author Paul Ferraro, a professor of human behavior and public policy at Johns Hopkins, said he was surprised by the partisan divide. In similar studies he has conducted, Ferraro said, a willingness to conserve energy or water during power shortages and drought typically did not have a strong partisan divide. The divide is seen more in survey data where people report what they think than in behavioral data, where scientists observe what people do.

“There’s this common wisdom that Republicans are anti-science and Democrats are pro-science,” Ferraro said. “That’s one of those things, how we’re often guided by anecdotes or survey data.”

Ferraro was inspired to conduct the research after a recent shift in strategy among science communicators, in which scientists were encouraged to communicate their messages through compelling stories rather than straightforward facts. This is a tough balancing act for scientists, Ferraro said, because scientists are also taught to be cautious, avoid alarmism and embrace uncertainty.

By testing this storytelling strategy, Ferraro learned that not all audiences respond positively to the story-based approach. He plans to conduct further research on what aspect of stories people with different political leanings respond to.

“In the climate change community, we should be carefully testing our messaging every time we do an outreach intervention,” Ferraro said. “We’re constantly doing communication, but we’re not testing things, we’re using our own experience and anecdotes to drive our outreach messages and not using these opportunities to learn.”


Where’s the Beef? Not on This Foodie Website.

A popular recipe website announced this week it will no longer feature dishes using beef as an ingredient.

Epicurious, owned by the same company as the food magazine Bon Appetit, announced the decision in an article Tuesday, saying the decision was not “anti-beef, but rather pro-planet.”

The publication has been reducing its beef recipes since 2019, and now uses recipes with alternative plant-based meat brands and highlights recipes using cauliflower or mushrooms on the grill for holidays like the Fourth of July. In the article, the publication’s leaders say that plant-based recipes still get plenty of interest from readers.

Cow’s digestion leads to the release of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet. Plus, the massive amounts of land required to raise enough cattle to satisfy the world’s growing demand for beef leads to deforestation, which removes an important carbon sink and increases carbon emissions.

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The announcement comes after the emissions-reducing strategy of eating less beef had already made the news. Conservative media outlets pushed a false story that President Biden was planning to limit red meat consumption as part of his climate change agenda, after a misleading Daily Mail headline.

Epicurious says their action isn’t meant to be a war on beef or beef-eaters. The site won’t remove old recipes featuring beef, but it won’t publish new ones and won’t feature meals with beef on its social media feeds.

“[Epicurious’s] agenda is the same as it has always been: to inspire home cooks to be better, smarter, and happier in the kitchen,” the website’s leaders write in the article. “The only change is that we now believe that part of getting better means cooking with the planet in mind. If we don’t, we’ll end up with no planet at all.”


Corn Harvest Scraps Can Clean Water

The scrap leaves, stalks and husks of corn crops usually are left to rot in a farmer’s field or burned as waste. But new research shows that this corn waste, known as “stover,” can be repurposed to filter pollutants out of water. 

Researchers at the University of California-Riverside converted corn stover into activated carbon, a porous material that is used in Brita filters and wastewater treatment facilities. The activated carbon was then used to filter vanillin—a hazardous compound found in industrial waste—out of water.

The researchers explored three chemical methods to turn corn stover into activated carbon. One used hot, pressurized water to create biochar that was converted into activated carbon; another used a long heating process to make biochar; in the third, the stover was directly converted into activated carbon. The first method using water and the latter method of direct conversion created the most effective filter, which removed 98 percent of the vanillin pollutant, the researchers found.

“The biggest takeaway is that if you’re trying to develop activated carbon, especially from corn stover or any other biomass, it is really important how you prepare those materials,” said Kandis Leslie Abdul-Aziz, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside and a co-author of the study.

The finding, Abdul-Aziz said, could create a market for corn stover that would motivate farmers to not burn or leave their leftover corn waste on the field, but rather sell it. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning stover or from allowing it to decompose.

“We can find another way for farmers to utilize that waste that’s also cost effective,” she said, “that might be profitable for them instead of dumping it away.”