Have you thought about going ‘Dry’ this January? Well, the decision to do so may not only benefit your body, mind and bank account, but it could also benefit the planet.
In 2023, it was predicted that around nine million people would participate in Dry January, or ‘Dry Jan’.
This year, it could be even more.
Alcohol Change UK leads the Dry Jan campaign, encouraging individuals to abstain from alcohol for the entire month of January. According to the charity’s website, going sober has a heap of benefits, including brighter skin, a calmer mind and generally a fresher morning.
That’s not to mention the benefit to your wallet, as the average price of a pint has risen to £4.58 in the UK, up 12% on July last year.
On the inside, going sober will also lower blood pressure, levels of cancer-related proteins and cholesterol.
Furthermore, studies show that this short-term commitment to sobriety may serve as a small stepping stone to more enduring behaviour changes. This is because once an individual has taken the initial leap to go sober, there is a higher likelihood of making substantial and lasting adjustments to a healthier drinking lifestyle.
So going sober could help you, but are there benefits for the climate?
While society has become increasingly mindful of the environmental repercussions associated with our food choices, clothing and travel habits, the environmental impact of the alcohol we so readily consume may often escape our consideration.
Before the bartender hands you a glass of your favourite tipple, it’s important to note that at almost every stage of its production, from plant to mouth, your drink has built up an environmental footprint.
Starting in the countryside, alcohol production begins with agriculture, where crops such as barley, wheat, grapes or sugarcane are grown, depending on the beverage, of course.
On a much smaller scale than agriculture for livestock, growing crops is still not a net-zero process. In particular, growing crops for alcohol also takes land away from crops for food and, unlike food, alcohol is not absolutely essential for life.
So should we be using this land for food, bringing in the question of ethics, especially in developing nations? Growing crops also uses water, and in many places across the globe, water is scarce, a problem likely to get worse with climate change.
Next, production from crop to bottle involves many energy-intensive processes, from fermentation to distillation. Finally, transporting the drinks from production facilities to consumers often involves fuel consumption, releasing carbon emissions. In 2021, the United States shipped 2.9 billion cases of beer! That’s a lot of air and shipping miles.
Each of these sectors produces greenhouse gas emissions and has effects on land use. The alcoholic drinks industry is by no means good for the environment, and so ignoring alcohol in January will help the climate.
But by how much?
However, unlike the meat or fashion industry, the quality and quantity of peer-reviewed research on the exact impacts of the alcohol industry eludes us. Aside from a paper by Tara Garnett that suggested that the alcohol industry accounts for around 1.5% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, research is scant.
Until further research is done, it could be argued that the alcohol industry is too ingrained within society to bring into the climate debate.
Or, is it too hard to quantify in terms of direct emissions?
For example, have you ever ordered a pizza after a drunken night out when, if sober, you may have made something from the food in your fridge? It’s these micro-emissions that add up to contribute to a personal carbon footprint, but how many are a direct cause of alcohol?
Or you can flip this argument on its head and say, You decide to go sober and save an extra £50 that month in doing so. Instead, you spend that £50 elsewhere. Unless spent on carbon-neutral or negative products, drinking alcohol may be better for the planet.
Finally, the alcohol-free alternative at the bar one Saturday night may be worse than the locally brewed ale you would have normally ordered. There are many more instances like this that need more research to get a conclusive answer to the question: Will going dry in January help the climate?
So in summary, the decision to embrace Dry Jan transcends the personal health benefits; in practical terms, not drinking a pint of beer and going for tap water will reduce emissions, just as opting for a meat-free sandwich for lunch does. But the exact climate benefits of Dry January are unknown and should be quantified.
As the movement gains more participants, the impact of Dry Jan on both personal well-being and the planet will become increasingly evident, making it a noteworthy initiative for those seeking positive change, not only within themselves but also for the planet.