Insurance and Climate Change column

Report Says Climate Change Could Make Some Wines Less Tasty

By | May 12, 2016

When you go to one of those giant annual insurance conferences ever wonder how much wine – in terms of gallons, number of glasses, bottles, dollar value – is consumed at all the evening mixers and up-scale soirees over the course of these two- or three-day gatherings?

At the Risk and Insurance Management Society meeting in March I was personally invited to a few such get-togethers.

There were typically three areas among the seas of enthusiastic wannabe networkers where navigation became difficult: getting around the bar area packed with the hard-drinkers; squeezing by the station that had the best appetizers; avoiding head-on collisions with the umpteen servers toting trays brimming with glasses of red or white wine.

In light of this unflagging devotion to fermented grapes, a report from the executive body of the European Union might hit home for a number of people in the insurance industry.

A report in Horizon, an EU research and innovation publication, suggests that some wines could become a bit less tasty because of climate change.

The report says winemakers are reporting changes in their yields in a warmer climate: “In France, the Burgundy region had its driest July in 66 years in 2015, while Italian producers are planting different grape varieties due to more intense summers.”

According to the report, growers are struggling to keep their product “stable in quantity and quality.”

What appears to be happening, the report explains, is extra heat and sunlight is boosting the amount of sugar the vines put into grapes.

This means the alcohol content of the wine can rise above the ideal 12- to 14-percent range during fermentation, and that the sugar content develops faster than the polyphenol chemicals that give wines their taste. An FYI for aficionados, the chemical class of tannins is a subset of polyphenols.

“By stimulating the increase in sugar while the content in polyphenol aromas is not quite mature, you have a lot of sugar very early and the rest of the components are not quite there,” Dr. Anne-Françoise Adam-Blondon of the National Institute for Agricultural Research in France told Horizon.

Paying for Climate Change

Not far from California’s famed wine region, Bay Area residents next month will decide whether to pay to fight climate change.

Measure AA on the June 7 ballot would institute a $12 per year parcel tax, raising roughly $25 million annually for 20 years to defend against sea level rise by restoring marshes.

An official argument in favor of the measure from Ballotopedia states:

“Join Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and environmental, business and community leaders from across Alameda County in voting YES on Measure AA for a clean and healthy San Francisco Bay. This measure is critical to restoring wetlands and protecting wildlife habitat for future generations throughout the Bay Area.”

Opponents, such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, say it’s unfair to tax all people in a region that stretches far from the ocean.

“Whether it is a struggling farm worker family in a very modest bungalow in Gilroy, or the Apple campus there in Silicon Valley [the tax is the same],” Jon Coupal, president of the association, told Bay Area public radio station KQED. “So obviously there are equity issues.”

Ed Hawkins Climate Change Spiral Get the GIF?

A tweet from a professor at the University of Reading in the U.K. has been mesmerizing the masses lately.

Professor Ed Hawkins generated a global warming animation using data on the planet’s average temperature anomalies going back to 1850 and plotted them in the form of a spiral that moves outward showing warmer temperatures farther out as the years roll by.

As of Thursday it had been retweeted nearly 10,000 times, and favorited more than 6,000 times.

That shouldn’t be too surprising. GIFs seem to have returned to popularity lately, and the graphic was colorful and doesn’t require much reading – even less thinking. Thus the popularity on social media.

Hawkins also published the animation in Climate Lab Book, an open source climate blog. In the blog he breaks down a few features that can be seen in the graphic:

  • 1877-78: strong El Niño event warms global temperatures;
  • 1880s-1910: small cooling, partially due to volcanic eruptions;
  • 1910-1940s: warming, partially due to recovery from volcanic eruptions, small increase in solar ouput and natural variability;
  • 1950s-1970s: fairly flat temperatures as cooling sulphate aerosols mask the greenhouse gas warming;
  • 1980-present: strong warming, with temperatures pushed higher in 1998 and 2016 due to strong El Niño events.

Neanderthal Enigma

A University of Colorado Denver researcher thinks climate change may have contributed to the extinction of Neanderthals.

According to anthropology professor Jamie Hodgkins, Neanderthals in Europe showed signs of nutritional stress during periods of extreme cold, suggesting climate change may have contributed to their demise around 40,000 years ago.

She looked at the remains of prey animals and found that Neanderthals worked especially hard to extract calories from the meat and bones during colder periods, according to the publication Science Daily.

The professor examined bones discovered in caves in Southwestern France where Neanderthals once dwelled for marks that would tell her how animal carcasses were butchered and used for food. The bones were more heavily processed in glacial periods, which the professor thinks indicates a nutritional need to consume all of the marrow – a likely signal of a reduction in food availability.

“Our research uncovers a pattern showing that cold, harsh environments were stressful for Neanderthals,” Hodgkins told Science Daily in an article on Wednesday. “As the climate got colder, Neanderthals had to put more into extracting nutrients from bones. This is especially apparent in evidence that reveals Neanderthals attempted to break open even low marrow yield bones, like the small bones of the feet.”

She added: “Our results illustrate that climate change has real effects.”

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