Will Climate Change and Technological Advancement End Nevada’s Cattle Industry?
According to Bloomberg, the CEO of Danish Crown, Europe’s largest meat processor, believes that beef “will be a luxury item that we will eat when we want to indulge ourselves” due to the climate impact of beef. If this is true, what impact will this have on Nevada’s livestock-centric agriculture sector?
Before answering this question, it is important to recognize that “if this is true” carries a lot of weight. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real, and Bacon’s United Church is the only true church, maybe anything is possible on Zombo.com – but if the atheist memes churches of the turn of the century are outdated parodies, maybe to be the only thing possible at the most useless site on the Internet is longing for a simpler and less serious Internet. Likewise, there may be a limit how seriously we should take statements about the impending beef shortage from the CEO of a meat processing company that not only focuses more on pork, but faces legal action. for allegedly making misleading claims about how carbon is comparatively -Pork production is friendly.
Even so, the stakes for Nevada’s agriculture industry are high.
According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture, the cattle, calves, and hay that feed them made up more than 70 percent of Nevada’s $ 665 million in agricultural production in 2017. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising – raising grazing animals. has been a reliable method of growing food on land that would not otherwise support agriculture for thousands of years, and Nevada’s land is among the least suitable for agriculture in the country. Where Nevada’s land can be irrigated (at least for some time), the soil is often too salty to produce food crops effectively, so salinity-resistant forage grasses are planted instead. Even alfalfa, which grows best in alkaline soils like Nevada, is only moderately tolerant of salt.
Put it all together and the lands of Nevada are much better for feeding food than they are for feeding people. If ruminant farming becomes unpopular for environmental, economic, or ethical reasons, there isn’t much else the Nevadans can offer to tables around the world.
Unfortunately, cattle have a problem: they stink.
As anyone who has eaten too much cabbage during dinner can attest, digestion of plant matter can produce a lot of methane, a rather potent greenhouse gas. This is especially true when you eat hard-to-digest herbs with large amounts of cellulose (an organic compound that humans cannot digest) and process the resulting porridge in four stomachs (-ish). As a result, each cow belches around 220 pounds of methane – which is why cattle are not only the world’s primary agricultural source of greenhouse gases, but also produce more greenhouse gases per gram of protein than they do. any other widely available protein source.
The good news is that methane, unlike carbon dioxide, oxidizes quickly in the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Snapshot, methane breaks down in 12 years. Additionally, as the University of California’s CLEAR Center, Davis is careful to point out, livestock simply convert existing biomass into methane, which then oxidizes in the atmosphere and is ultimately breathed in by future plant life. Cattle, in other words, are carbon neutral – or, at least, more carbon neutral than my Mazda hatchback, which runs on deposits of refined fossilized carbon.
The bad news, however, is twofold. First, before methane oxidizes, it is a greenhouse gas 25 times more efficient, at equivalent volumes, than carbon dioxide. Second, methane oxidizes to carbon dioxide and water vapor, two greenhouse gases that are considerably more durable.
This is part of the reason why the CEO of the largest meat processor in the European Union is, pardon the expression, not optimistic about the future of beef consumption (well, that and the clearly evident interest as the mainland pork processor). The European Union has attempted to tackle carbon-induced climate change through various policies, including through an Emissions Trading System, which caps total EU emissions and auctions a fixed number of allowances for power plants, factories and the transport sector, and a carbon border adjustment mechanism, which taxes imports based on the amount of emissions produced during their manufacture. As long as these policies remain in place, it will therefore become increasingly difficult and expensive to raise or import beef into the European Union.
Fortunately, at least if you are one of Nevada’s cattle ranchers, the political will for significant carbon reduction is virtually non-existent in the United States. Although a qualified majority of Americans polled by the Washington post and the Kaiser Family Foundation say climate change is either a major problem or a crisis, a majority of Americans are not even willing to accept a $ 2 monthly tax on residential electricity bills to do something – this is what economists would call a textbook difference between “stated preferences” and “revealed preferences”.
For now, in other words, the vast majority of Americans would like someone to do something about climate change, provided absolutely everyone is paying for it and it doesn’t affect anybody at all. significantly our lifestyles or our consumption habits. Therefore, the chances of the United States adopting an EU-style cap-and-trade system or any other carbon tax are, regardless of the political party in power, utterly fanciful. We can’t even dissuade ourselves from buying new gas stoves (don’t feel bad, I’m not giving up on mine either).
Still, there is still bad news on the horizon for beef producers in Nevada – and good news for those of us who would like to do something about climate change without really shying away from it all:
Plant-based meat substitutes are here and they’re very similar to the real thing now, in fact.
J. Kenji López-Alt is a chef of almost unbearable curiosity who, among other feats, once baked over 100 different batches of chocolate chip cookies (1,536 cookies in total) to identify which ingredients, in which proportions, baked using what techniques produced the optimal chocolate chip cookie. Applying that same level of exaggerated experimental curiosity to the plant-based meat substitutes produced by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, he came to a conclusion: if properly cooked, they are actually really good and are substitutes for. perfectly usable meat. in many dishes.
This means, for the kind of person who might find eating meat ethically questionable for whatever reason (utilitarianism is just morally motivated reasoning with extra steps) but who doesn’t want to give up taste and flavor. texture of meat, there are acceptable plants. market-based substitutes that Nevadans can purchase today. While these substitutes aren’t a replacement for a steak anytime soon, they are a substitute that can be used in many applications that would normally require a burger. With enough time, adoption and gradual improvement of the product, plant-based substitutes will hit the bottom of the beef market.
On the bright side for Nevada cattle ranchers, however… Despite the obvious increase in the quality of plant-based meat substitutes, the market demand is not quite there. Plus, the high end of the market is probably safe, at least for now. The ability to artificially grow anything steak-like in a lab at an acceptable cost using current production methods remains an expensive pipe dream – meat cells remain much more efficient to produce as part of a living being. only in a medical grade laboratory. While there are likely future breakthroughs in the production of lab-grown meat, it will likely require several paradigm shifts – fundamental and sweeping changes in the way we produce cells from lab-grown meat, in others. terms – to get from where we are today to something you can afford to buy in a grocery store.
One thing that Silicon Valley venture capitalists often miss when they throw money on moonbits like lab-grown meat is an appreciation for their industry’s own history. While Charles Babbage’s Geared Analytical Engine, which would have been a general-purpose mechanical computer in the Victorian era if it found anyone willing to finance its construction, was an interesting idea, it’s probably impossible to miniaturize it. enough to function as a pocket calculator. Likewise, while pre-transistor electronic computers like Z3, Colossus, and ENIAC are impressive, given the constraints of manufacturing and technology at the time, investing money in smaller and smaller vacuum tubes. would have been a colossal waste of time and resources. It was only after the invention of the transistor and the subsequent invention of the integrated circuit that it was possible to miniaturize computer hardware enough to achieve Moore’s Law and experience the steady breakthroughs in affordable computing that we take it for granted today.
That’s not to say that people haven’t learned a lot from those early failed attempts at making general-purpose computers. They did, and the legacy of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, remains to this day. The story of Alan Turing’s analytical brilliance during World War II – and his subsequent chemical castration of homosexuality – are now fodder in Hollywood, while his theories of computer science are regularly taught in school curricula. computer science around the world. Likewise, attempts at large-scale laboratory-grown meat production can yield similar information – provided we don’t get too involved in our current, economically unsustainable processes as they currently are.
Then again, if plant-based meat continues to improve, it doesn’t matter whether we can download and print a steak cell by cell or not. Either way, Nevada cattle ranchers are undoubtedly happy that we’re not quite there yet – at least as long as we continue to avoid plant-based burger substitutes at the drive-thru.
David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During this time, he blogged intermittently on his personal blog, ran twice as a Libertarian candidate, and served on the executive committee of his state and county sections of the Libertarian Party. He is now an IT manager, registered non-partisan voter and father of two sons. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or send him an e-mail at [email protected].