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CNN: ‘Why the climate crisis may be coming for your margarita next’

By , CNN

CNNAgave-based liquor like tequila and mezcal was the fastest growing spirits category in 2022, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US. Analysts even say it might soon surpass vodka as the best-selling liquor in the country.

But scientists from around the world have made it clear that climate change-fueled water shortages will continue to put enormous pressure on food production. Wine and spirits, unfortunately, are not spared from that forecast. A 2019 study found that the climate crisis, coupled with overgrazing from cattle ranching and other human activities, may disrupt the distribution and cultivation of agave, the main ingredient of tequila.

While agave is a drought-tolerant plant that can thrive in hot weather with little to no water, Omanjana Goswami, a food and environment scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the life cycle of agave is too fragile to endure the major weather whiplash the climate crisis is generating – from extreme drought to deadly storm deluges like the one California just experienced.

“Agave is a desert plant, so of course, anything that is moving towards that desert-like weather is going to help this crop thrive,” Goswami told CNN. “But unfortunately, climate effects are not linear. It doesn’t mean that as temperatures warm that will remain consistent.”

“With extreme weather in conjunction with unpredictability, it’s so hard to predict where this is going to go in the future,” she added.

Warming temperatures have become a growing concern for the Mexican long-nosed bat — a key species for tequila.

“You wouldn’t have tequila if you had no bats, because that’s the only thing that pollinates the agave plant that makes tequila,” Ron Magill, the communications director and a wildlife expert at Zoo Miami, previously told CNN.

Because of the high demand for agave spirits, it’s easy for farmers to fall into the practice of monoculture, where they reuse the same soil to grow a single crop, leading to a loss in genetic diversity, scientists told CNN. That includes places like California, where farmers do not rely on external pollinators like bats to grow their agave crops.

Agave plants require little watering and can allow farmers to plant crops on land that would have otherwise been fallowed due to lack of water. And while it takes six to eight years for agave plants to mature, scientists say agave plants can also suck planet-warming carbon pollution out of the atmosphere.

Given these benefits – and as the West is mired in a multi-year drought – Craig Reynolds, an agave grower and founding director of the California Agave Council, said he sees agave spirits as an economic opportunity in a hotter and drier future.

“There’s going to be some failures and setbacks here and there,” Reynolds said. “I’m not hoping for the climate to change. I’m just realistic in that we need to do everything we can to slow climate change, but we also have to simultaneously have adaptation strategies to the climate change that is happening – and agave is just part of the adaptation strategy.”