Climate Change & Saving Our Planet

by | Jan 10, 2022

In this episode, we speak with Dr. Frank Mitloehner, director of environmental research at the CLEAR center and professor in Animal Science at UC Davis. The CLEAR Center brings clarity to the intersection of animal agriculture and the environment, helping our global community understand the environmental and human health impacts of livestock, so we can make informed decisions about the foods we eat and while reducing environmental impacts. 

Dr. Mitloehner is committed to making a difference for generations to come. As part of his position with UC Davis and Cooperative Extension, he collaborates with the animal agriculture sector to create better efficiencies and mitigate pollutants. 

He is passionate about understanding and mitigating air emissions from livestock operations, as well as studying the implications of these emissions on the health of farm workers and neighboring communities. In addition, he is focusing on the food production challenge that will become a global issue as the world’s population grows to nearly 10 billion by 2050. 

Is It Too Late to Save Our Planet?

The latest report on climate change paints a pretty dismal picture on if we can reverse what’s happening to our planet. It left us asking, is it simply too late? 

According to Dr. Mitloehner:

“This isn’t a dismissal of animal agriculture’s contributions to emissions, but let’s start by looking at the full picture. According to the EPA, the vast majority of greenhouse gases are produced by the fossil fuel industry. In fact, 80% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by that sector, agriculture produces 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and animal agriculture produces 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions. So I want to clarify that agriculture and animal agriculture plays a role in this, but it’s not the 30% or more we see in the media. Also, the gases emitted from agriculture are different in the way they warm the planet compared to vehicles and transportation.”

Dr. Mitloehner goes on to explain how methane, the primary gas emitted by agriculture, operates. According to Dr. Mitloehner, methane, operates in a “fast and furious” manner. It’s furious because it “packs a good punch” and is heat trapping, which makes it more potent than CO2. It’s fast because it is very short lived and only has a lifespan of 10 years, and then it’s naturally removed. If we can find ways to further reduce methane, we create instantaneous positive impacts. Producers and ranchers are already working on reducing methane. 

How Food Brands and Manufacturers Reduce Their Carbon Footprint 

According to Dr. Mitloehner, brands and manufacturers can help reduce emission by focusing on reducing their carbon footprint. It all starts with the supply chain. For example, if companies like Nestle, which is the largest producer of food, and Starbucks, which is the largest consumer of dairy, want to reduce their carbon footprint, then they also have to assist their supply chain in reducing theirs. 

Starbucks is already doing this, they assist their dairy farmers in purchasing feed additives for their cows that help change the amount of methane these cows belches out. Nestle is also partnering with all their food industry partners to reduce their carbon footprints when it comes to production. 

To reduce methane emissions in the animal sector, we must focus on the enteric emissions, the gas that’s belched out from the front of cattle and other livestock. The second part is to reduce the methane emissions from manure. In California, dairies and producers that work with large companies such as Nestle or Starbucks are working to reduce emissions by converting biogas into renewable energy sources including fuel.

In the case of the California dairy industry, they’ve already successfully reduced their emissions 25% by using feed additives and biogas caps on their lagoons. Restaurants are also participating in renewable energy research studies to see how using biogas can turn their food waste into a source of renewable power. 

Improving Soil Health and Sequestering Carbon

The next step is to look at how emission reduction processes are being used to store carbon in the soil and improve soil health. Our soil can store one-third (33%) of all human caused carbon. Ranches, of which there are 750,000 in the U.S., are just one way of doing that. Agriculture and forestry are the only two sectors that can successfully sequester carbon created by humans. 

Both the EPA and the IPCC have found that agriculture and forestry are a greater sink than source for greenhouse gas emissions. We need agriculture and animal agriculture to combat climate change. “Even with solid data to support this, we often see these numbers and correlations misreported in the media,” says Dr.  Mitloehner. “The fact that agriculture is a producer, but also a sink, means that we have to make agriculture a part of the solution, and help our producers in that process.”

Dr. Mitloehner reminds food brands, manufacturers, and consumers we need people that grow and raise food; they play a critical role to our success in saving the planet, but also feeding the world. He reminds us that two thirds (66%) of the food we eat in the U.S. is produced and raised by only 80,000 farmers, and the average age of a farmer is 60 years old. If their children don’t take on the farms, who’s going to be a part of our next generation of producers? 

“Food propaganda is killing farms and production.”  – Dr. Frank Mitloehner

Food Brands and Manufacturers Should Incentivize Producers

The number one thing food brands and manufacturers can do to combat climate change is to work with producers and suppliers buy incentivizing them to follow regenerative agriculture practices; this includes low till, no till, and implementing carbon sequestration practices. Kraft is already pioneering this with their suppliers and producers. 

From a scientific standpoint, it’s important to know that we don’t have the data on what regenerative agriculture does and how much of an improvement in soil carbon we get yet. But there’s active research happening right now. Incentives need to happen at the federal, state, and company levels in order to create sustainable solutions. 

Consumer Trends and Looking Forward

Looking forward, there is no “Plan B,” we are in trouble. Saying that people will eat fabricated foods is not based in reality. According to Dr. Mitloehner, in the real world, if we want measurable impact, we have to make change at scale, from niche producers to mass producers. 

Show Notes

  • 1:00 – Meet Dr. Mitloehner
  • 2:10 – Where Greenhouse Gases Come From
  • 2:21 – Agriculture is 10% of Greenhouses, Animal Ag is 4%, Not 30% 
  • 3:00 – How Methane Works 
  • 4:09 – How Large Food Brands & Manufacturers Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprint
  • 4:32 – Starbucks, Farmers & Supply Chain 
  • 4:51 – Nestle, Farmers & Supply Chain 
  • 5:17 – Emission Reduction and Biogas Conversion
  • 6:20 – Low Carbon Fuel Standard Credits
  • 7:34 – Building Soil Health and Sequestering Carbon
  • 8:31 – Soil Carbon Sequestration Requires Ranches and Farms
  • 9:52 – Helping Farmers & Making Agriculture A Part of The Solution
  • 10:08 – Sequestering Carbon: Approaches For Producers
  • 12:06 – Government Incentives on Low and No Till Farming
  • 12:52 – Incentivize Producers to Explore Regenerative Agriculture
  • 14:30 – There Is No “Plan B”, We Are In Trouble

Bonus Conversations

  • 15:00 – Fake Food Is A Fairy Tale
  • 16:27 – Your Food Preferences Are A Private Choice
  • 17:02 – Price Fixing and Obstacles to Sway Eating Habits
  • 17:50 – The Dichotomy on Plants vs. Animals
  • 18:58 – Only 1% Of The Total Population Is Vegan
  • 19:30 – Veganism’s Greatest Challenge Is The Retention Rate
  • 20:20 – Telling People “Not To Eat Meat” Doesn’t Create Change
  • 21:17 – Plant-Based Meat Isn’t New, It’s Just Has Better Products
  • 22:22 – What Happened When A Fast Food Chain Added Plant-Based Burgers To The Menu
  • 23:04 – There’s No Significant, Factual Research That Show Consumers Are Reducing Meat Consumption
  • 24:18 – IMHO, Lab Grown Meat Is A No Go
  • 24:48 – The Scientific Community & The Process For “Growing Meat”
  • 25:19 – You Go To The Slaughterhouse For Stem Cells
  • 25:34 – How We Get Fetal Bovine Serum
  • 26:05 – The Process Is More Energy Intensive Than Current Practices
  • 26:26 – Keeping Lab Grown Meat Involves Antibiotics Because You Can’t Keep It Pathogen Free

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