Dear EarthTalk: I see more and more organic wines on store shelves these days, but what options are out there today for organic beer?
—Ken Strong, Wichita, KS
Some 80 million Americans drink beer, yet organic beer represents still only a sliver of the $7 billion U.S. craft beer market. But this sliver is quickly turning into a slice: Between 2003 and 2009, according to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. organic beer sales more than quadrupled from $9 million to $41 million.
According to Seven Bridges Cooperative, which has been selling organic brewing ingredients for a decade already, organic beers tend to feature exceptional clarity and a clean, flavorful taste. "On a more technical side, organic malts on average have a lower protein content which produces a clear mash and less haze problems in the finished beer," reports Seven Bridges. "Organic malts and hops have no chemical residues to interfere with fermentation to give the organic brewer a clean, unadulterated beer."
Seven Bridges mail you all the ingredients you need to brew your own organic beer at home, but most of us would rather just enjoy the finished product. Depending on where you live, you might have dozens of organic beer brands available in bottles and even on tap at your favorite watering hole.
One of the most visible is Fortuna, California-based Eel River Brewing Company, founded in 1996. Eel River has the distinction of being America's first certified organic brewery. Their IPA, Pale Ale, Porter, Amber Ale, Blonde Ale, Old Ale and Imperial Stout are all crafted from organic hops from New Zealand and organic grains from the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
Butte Creek Brewery, established in 1998 in Chico, California, brews organic Pilsner, Porter, Pale Ale and India Pale Ale. Their award-winning beers are distributed internationally. Olympia, Washington-based Fish Tale Organic Ales has been brewing ales, porters and stouts to rave reviews since 1993, and introduced its first certified organic beer in 2000. And Otter Creek Brewery in Middlebury, Vermont produces a line of organic ales called Wolaver"s, which includes an Oatmeal Stout and a Pumpkin Ale.
The UK's Samuel Smith Brewery turns out a full line of acclaimed organic ale, lager and fruit beers. Other popular choices include Pinkus Organic Munster Alt, Peak Organic, New Belgium's Mothership Wit Wheat Beer, and Lakefront Organic ESB, among others. And Whole Foods Markets now produces its own private label organic beer called Lamar Street, which is known for its rich flavor and low cost.
Not surprisingly, even the big boys are beginning to jump in. Anheuser-Busch is pushing its Stone Mill, Wild Hops and Green Valley organic beers. And Miller's Henry Weinhard's Organic Amber, on store shelves since 2007, is brewed with local ingredients by the Full Sail Brewery in Hood River, Oregon.
One way to sample dozens of organic beers at once is to attend the North American Organic Brewers Festival (NAOBF), held every June in Portland, Oregon. Whether you clue into organic beers at this event or just at your local pub you can't go wrong by spreading your eco-consciousness to your beer drinking.
Dear EarthTalk: In my business courses in college, we were taught that ecological degradation was an "externality"—something outside the purview of economic analyses. Now that the environment is of such concern, are economists beginning to rethink this?
—Josh Dawson, Flagstaff, AZ
By definition, economic externalities are the indirect negative (or positive) side effects, considered un-quantifiable in dollar terms, of other economic acts. For example, a negative externality of a power plant that is otherwise producing a useful good (electricity) is the air pollution it generates. In traditional economics, the harmful effect of the pollution (smog, acid rain, global warming) on human health and the environment is not factored in as a cost in the overall economic equation. And as the economists go, so go the governments that rely on them. The result is that most nations do not consider environmental and other externalities in their calculations of gross domestic product (GDP) and other key economic indicators (which by extension are supposed to be indicators of public health and well-being).
For decades environmentalists have argued that economics should take into account the costs borne by such externalities in order to discern the true overall value to society of any given action or activity. The company or utility that operates the polluting factory, for instance, should be required to compensate the larger society by paying for the pollution it produces so as to offset the harm it does.
So-called "cap-and-trade" schemes are one real-world way of monetizing a negative externality: Big polluters must buy the right to generate limited amounts of carbon dioxide (and they can trade such rights with other companies that have found ways to lower their carbon footprints, thus creating an incentive for polluters to clean up their acts). While cap-and-trade was invented in the U.S. to clean up acid rain pollution, it is a model used in Europe but not yet in America, which has yet to pass legislation mandating it. Until Congress acts to regulate the output of carbon dioxide in the U.S.—via cap-and-trade means or others—such emissions will remain "external" to the economics of carrying on business.
Recent news that has many greens excited is that the World Bank, the leading financier of development projects around poorer parts of the globe, is starting to think outside the traditional economic box. This past October, World Bank president Robert Zoellick told participants at a conference for the Convention on Biological Diversity (an international treaty signed by 193 countries—not including the U.S.—that went into effect in 1993 to sustain biodiversity) that "the natural wealth of nations should be a capital asset valued in combination with its financial capital, manufactured capital and human capital." Zoellick's comments are the first sign from the World Bank of its recognition of the need to consider externalities in any overall economic assessment. "[We] need to reflect the vital carbon storage services that forests provide and the coastal protection values that come from coral reefs and mangroves," he added.
Critics are still waiting to see if the World Bank will walk its talk. "It's a fine rhetorical start," says the New York Times" Andrew Revkin in his blog. "But the announcement by the bank of a $10 million "Save Our Species" fund, with the United Nations Global Environmental Facility and International Union for Conservation of Nature, seems quite piddling in a world where money flows in the trillions," he adds. Indeed, we may still be a ways off from including our environmental impacts in
to our measures of social wealth and health, but at least the World Bank has gone on record as to the need to do so, and you can be sure that environmental advocates will be working to hold its feet to the fire.
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