‘California is reducing methane levels without losing a single livestock unit’ – Dr. Mitloehner

California, the largest agricultural state in the US, is succeeding in its bid to reduce methane emissions – without losing any units of livestock.

The situation has been highlighted by Dr. Frank Mitloehner, a professor and air quality expert at the University of California in the city of Davis (UC Davis), where he is involved in leading research that quantifies and mitigates agricultural air and climate pollutants.

In a recent interview with AgriLand, the professor highlighted some of the work being achieved in the state which has been mandated to reduce its methane emissions by 40% over the next decade.

Technology is playing a significant role.

Here’s a flavour of what’s happening in the state, where the work is being carried out in conjunction with the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

“Farmers should be paid for sequestering carbon; I think in the future they will and I hope it will not be too late.

“Because there are private policy people throughout the world who do not get these concepts – but we also see some positive examples of what’s happening and I’ll give you one example.

“Here in California we have a new methane law SB [Senate Bill] 1393. The new methane law in California mandates a 40% reduction of methane to be achieved by 2030.

“So our farmers and land users need to reduce methane by 40% in the next 10 years; that’s a huge reduction.

“But our state has done something very new this time. Instead of saying ‘let’s achieve that through strict regulations and penalties if people don’t comply’, instead of doing that the state decided ‘let’s use a different approach’.

He says instead of using “the cane approach” the state is “using the carrot”.

“The state is incentivising methane reduction through farmers. They do this by cost-sharing technologies and techniques that can reduce methane.

“Over the last two years the state of California has invested half a billion dollars to cost-share methane reducing techniques and technology to farmers.”

And already the results are proving significant.

“Even though we started three years ago, we are now at 25% of the 40% reduction. This is a great example of how we can work.”

No herd reduction

Dr. Mitloehner emphasises that the results are being achieved without focusing on reducing herd sizes.

“We have not reduced one cow, or one sheep, or one goat or anything. So if your public policy makers play this smart it could be a win/win for everybody – for farmers, for legislators, for the public at large.

“It could be a win/win for everyone.”

The professor is confident that the state will hit its target.

“We will continue and we will reach that 40% goal without anyone going bankrupt and without us producing less food.

“We will produce the same, or more, food than today without getting rid of our agriculture sector because it’s so important.

“California agriculture is huge; it produces twice as much agriculture production than the number two state in the US which is Iowa.

“We are by far the number one agriculture state in the US, maybe in the world. There is a massive agriculture enterprise here.”

‘Meatless’ days

When asked for his views on the growing trend of having a “meatless” food day each week, Dr. Mitloehner contended that such actions will prove relatively meaningless.

“If the whole Irish nation were to do ‘Meatless Monday’ – where you eat one day less meat a week – then that would reduce the carbon footprint of Ireland by about 0.3% – but only if everybody does it.

“If you were to become vegan for one year you would reduce your carbon footprint – which is currently about 12t of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year – by about 0.8%.

“So assuming your carbon footprint is about 12t GHGs per year, you would reduce your carbon footprint – if you were to go vegan – by 0.8t – so less than 1t.

“If you were to come and visit me in California, this one flight for one passenger would produce 1.6t.

“In other words, one flight to visit me in California produces twice the amount of GHGs that you would save if you were to become a vegan.

“And that is becoming vegan – that’s not just reducing meat – that is no more animal protein, no more animal product whatsoever, no dairy, no eggs, none of that.

“So our destructive friends are overplaying their cards drastically and the reason why I have a huge problem with that is because that deflects from the main activities that we really should be thinking about.”

The scientific expert states that if the entire US was to go vegan altogether – all 320 million people – it would reduce the nation’s carbon footprint by 2.6%.

However, he also warns that if society was to go this route “we would not be able to satisfy the nutritional needs of our citizens”.

“We would be deficient in many of the essential macro and micro nutrients.”

No fear

Ultimately, Dr. Mitloehner stresses that climate change is not something that Irish farmers should fear.

“Climate change is not something farmers should be afraid of, do not be afraid. Take the bull by the horns.

“If you try to wrestle with the 1% you will never convince them otherwise. Never.

“You will just get your blood pressure up; but you won’t change anything.

“So work on assuring the majority of people who do like what you do. Show that what you do is responsible, is nutritious, is ethical, and so forth. That in my opinion is a recipe for success.”