First we find out that carbon dioxide emissions are bad for oysters, and now a study indicates that rising global temperatures could also drastically affect wine production. That’s right: Greenhouse gases might ruin the romantic strategies of people everywhere — or, at least, result in some extra costs and environmental harm to keep these ancient aphrodisiacs readily available.
Research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that 19 to 73 percent of the land suitable for grape growing in various wine-producing areas will cease to be appropriate for viticulture by 2050.
That could lead to the large-scale clearing of wild habitat in cooler places — higher elevations and northern latitudes. Bordeaux may no longer come from Bordeaux. Oregon’s forestland could well become the next Napa Valley, to the detriment of the elk and other flora and fauna that currently rely on the wilderness. This shift could also lead desperate legacy winemakers to divert more precious resources into propping up wine production in areas where it’s no longer ideal. For example, the researchers suggest, they might divert water for irrigation and mist vines to keep the grapes cool.
Wine grapes are only a single example of what will be a much larger trend in land use over the coming decades. Growing seasons, strategies and locations for all sorts of crops could change. The researchers argue that people will have to manage that transition to minimize environmental disruptions, using water-conserving technologies to cool grapes or instituting clever land management programs. Perhaps winemakers could even find grapes that taste about the same but are more resistant to climate change’s effects. Wine snobs everywhere will shudder. And all of that, of course, will cost money.
As best as experts can reckon, rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will have all sorts of complex impacts, large and small, on heat waves, sea levels, oyster beds, viticulture, and lots else, many of which most people don’t know to think about when they consider climate change. Scientists have predicted lots of effects. But there’s still plenty of uncertainty — about what the experts haven’t contemplated yet, and about the likelihood and severity of many of the things they have predicted. That uncertainty shouldn’t be comforting. It should convince us to sacrifice a little now to head off the possibility of paying much more later.
Now if only John Boehner, Washington’s most notable wine devotee, would raise a glass to that.