The Hightower Report

Climate change, drought, beer, and me

Okay, climate change deniers – you've gone too far. You've gone from just being annoying know-nothings to now posing a serious threat to an essential good that embodies humankind's finest collaboration with nature: beer.

It's one thing for the science denial cult to stand in the way of doing something about melting ice caps in the Arctic, but it's another thing altogether for them to mess with beer. This makes it personal.

While the deniers keep doing their denial dance, Cali­fornia is drying up. The higher temperatures caused by climate change have produced an ongoing drought that has, among other bad things, caused a precipitous drop in the water level of Lake Mendocino, which could come close to being a dry lakebed this summer.

What has that got to do with beer? Glad you asked. Mendocino feeds the Russian River, which flows by the town of Petaluma, home to the Lagunitas Brewing Company, which makes very fine beers. A key ingredient in the Lagunitas brew is the excellent water the company draws from the Russian River, which presently is in danger of becoming a trickle.

Can't Lagunitas and other breweries along the river just switch to groundwater? No. The head beermaster at Lagunitas notes that heavy minerals in that water would cause it to fizz in the brewing process; plus there are concentrations of nitrates, iron, and manganese in the area groundwater, creating issues of odor, taste, and other unpleasantries that do not add up to good beer.

What the Lagunitas experience teaches us once again is that all things are linked together, despite the fantasies of industry shills who insist that their contaminates have no dire consequences. Mess with the global climate and you mess with Lake Mendocino, which messes with the Russian River, which messes with the beer. And now you're messing with me and millions of beer drinkers. Like I said, it's personal.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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