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Have you ever thought about how alcohol and drug use affect climate change?

Drugs and alcohol abuse is being targeted in UN’s 2030 Agenda and 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which have the objective of tackling climate change, leaving no one behind, ending poverty and fighting inequalities. Alcohol impacts 13 of the 17 sustainable development goals (2). 

Here’s how alcohol and drug consumption affect climate change:

Land use  

Land prioritised for alcohol and illicit drug production reduces food growing capacity and unlike food alcohol isn’t essential for life (4). 
The amount of land around the world that was used to cultivate opium in 2019 was approximately 337,000 football fields or the size of Paris 23 times (6).  
The cultivation of coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine, is cited by experts as one of the main drivers of the expansion of agricultural boundaries, resulting in deforestation. 24% of the national coca cultivation in Columbia in 2020 was in forest reservation zones and national natural parks; more than 35,000 hectares. In the same year, deforestation in the country reached 171,000 hectares (5). 

Water consumption 
Brewing 1 litre of beer may require as much as 10 litres of water (1). Climate change-induced water shortages have been stated as the greatest threat to global security. In California, tension around water supply and demand is already impacting brewers (3).

Waste production  
Toxic waste is also a concern, in Mexico for every litre of tequila produced there’s approximately 5kg of pulp and 11 litres of acidic waste which contaminate water and soil regions (4). This was acknowledged in relation to wine too, vineyards use large amounts of energy to harvest grapes, contribute heavily to global glass production, and leave behind toxic chemicals in the surrounding soil (7).  
Soils and water get polluted and precursor chemicals used in the process on a large scale end up unfiltered in the environment (6). 
And then there’s the packaging.  50 per cent of bottles and cans in the UK end up in landfill, with 50 billion cans reaching landfill in America (4). 

Carbon Footprint
It is estimated that 1% of US total energy consumption is from cannabis production. In other words, 3kg of potatoes has a similar carbon footprint to a single joint (6).  
Large amounts of fuel are required for refrigeration and transportation, and we've all heard of the negative impact that fossil fuels have on climate change. The U.S. beer industry shipped 2.8 billion cases in 2018, can you imagine the energy requirements of that alone? (7)  
To conclude  
The biggest impact alcohol and drugs have on the environment came as a surprise to me…it’s because of human behaviour surrounding them, especially alcohol. Whether it’s carbon emissions through added driving, un-recycled glass or aluminum, or the energy burned to make your drink in the first place, drinking alcohol takes a toll on our planet (7).

Here's a video of how drugs and alcohol effect climate change.





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