99 bottlers of beer: CCLers activate breweries on climate

Steffi Rausch breweries climate change

Steffi Rausch

99 bottlers of beer: CCLers activate breweries on climate

By Philip Finkelstein

As the impact of climate change continues to escalate, more industries are experiencing substantial challenges to successful business operation. Breweries in particular are realizing the very real threat climate change poses to their industry, and have therefore started to speak out on the issue before one of America’s proudest and most profitable products is made even more vulnerable. Beer makes up nearly 1.9% of US GDP, and over 6000 small breweries across all 50 states play a large part in bolstering their communities. Perhaps beer can be a catalyst for uniting Americans of all political backgrounds to pressure Congress to act on climate.

Highland Brewing breweries climate change

A few years ago, Rep. McHenry toured Highland Brewing in Asheville and posted about it on his Instagram.

CCL volunteers are working hard to activate that catalyst. The story begins in the beer town of Asheville, North Carolina, where Jim Tolbert (now CCL’s Conservative Caucus leader) reached out to New Belgium Brewing Company and invited them to endorse CCL’s carbon fee and dividend (CF&D) solution. This inspired Steffi Rausch, the lead organizer in CCL’s Asheville chapter, to launch an initiative to get other local brewery CF&D endorsements. The goal? To gather enough support to catch the attention of their appointed representative, Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry, who also happens to sit as vice chair on the House Small Brewers Caucus. McHenry represents a fairly liberal district booming in the beer business, making Asheville a unique arena to pilot this project of connecting breweries and climate advocacy. With all of the breweries in her town, Steffi knew if she garnered enough endorsements, her congressman would be forced to take notice. And thanks to Jim’s groundwork, Steffi says, “It really opened the floodgate to getting a lot of other small brewery endorsements.”

Through email, countless follow-up phone calls, and in-person meetings, Steffi and CCL volunteers managed to collect CF&D endorsements from 16 breweries in Asheville. This piqued not only Rep. McHenry’s interest, but also Randy Salim’s, head of the food and beverage sector for CCL’s Business Climate Leaders team. After joint discussion at the end of 2018, the two of them decided that Asheville’s initial success should be made into a larger movement nationwide. Aligning brewers en masse to endorse specific policy proposal (CF&D) shows real potential—the industry depends on high quality barley, hops, and water, all of which are being greatly affected by climate change. And with more than half of members of Congress belonging to their respective Small Brewers Caucuses, there’s a perfect opening for leveraging the combined support of the industry.

Randy Salim breweries climate change

Randy Salim

The clout of the brewing industry, along with the millions of beer-drinking American voters, holds serious sway over Congress, Steffi and Randy point out. The U.S. is responsible for about 50% of global hops production, recently overtaking Germany, which is suffering climate issues of their own. That alone holds a lot of weight, but barley crops have started moving north into Canada as droughts, wildfires, and changes in climate take their toll on farming in California. The brewing industry thus has a lot to lose if trends continue. They also have opportunity to gain—the REMI report suggests that the beverage and tobacco manufacturing industry will see the third largest growth in terms GDP as a result of CF&D policy.

This is why Business Climate Leaders in coordination with CCL have put together a Brewers’ Climate Declaration in order to collect “99 bottlers of beer” for their cause. Steffi and Randy aim to get more CCL volunteers involved in this movement to collect endorsements from at least 99 breweries by June of this year, when they plan to take the declaration to Congress on CCL’s Lobby Day. “We created a toolkit,” says Randy, “which is basically a step-by-step guide for CCL members in how to introduce the declaration to breweries in their area.” They’ve also established a breweries subgroup within CCL’s Grasstops Engagement Action Team to facilitate efforts in reaching out to breweries to further grow the number of endorsements. Having just launched their nationwide movement last month, the Brewers’ Climate Declaration is already showing promising results, having received 19 signatory endorsements from breweries in nine different states.

Steffi’s local work to collect CF&D support has also spread beyond state borders for a total of 25 endorsements. With that, talks are underway to set up a meeting with Congressman McHenry and local brewers, who have great interest in voicing their concerns directly to a policymaker in charge. The movement in Asheville has additionally been targeting state craft brewers to endorse climate action in the hopes that collective demonstration can be brought before the State Brewers Association, and eventually the National Brewers Association for next year’s annual conference. All this work is even more exciting now that there’s an active CF&D proposal in Congress: the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763).

Steffi and Randy need the assistance of CCLers and beer drinkers alike as the endeavor marches on. They’re calling on everyone to join the movement, no matter which political party you’re affiliated with. After all, you can’t have a “party” without beer.

If you’re interested in supporting these efforts, please contact brewteam @ citizensclimate.org.

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Originally from Vermont, Philip Finkelstein is a recent Political Science graduate from the University of British Columbia. He has a deep passion for writing and desire to bring about meaningful change.