“Solving for Zero: The Search for Climate Innovations” Highlights Food

innovations, policies, and investments needed for reducing man-made greenhouse gas emissions

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions requires big changes. From shipping to energy, from building materials to daily transportation, humanity has to do almost everything differently. Growing food is one such area of change.

Plant-based burger patties stacked
Improving agriculture’s impact on the climate could be done through developing higher-quality feed for animals that reduces their methane and nitrous-oxide output. Photo by Photology1971 / Shutterstock

In order to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions, humanity will need innovations, policies, and investments that will facilitate the necessary changes. Transportation companies are innovating with solutions such as electric vehicles, advanced biofuels, and sustainable aviation fuel. Other companies are looking at carbon-free electricity innovations like offshore wind farms and fusion. An industry not typically thought of immediately is agriculture.

How we grow things makes up 19% of the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year. In the new docu-course Solving for Zero: The Search for Climate Innovations, Wondrium highlights several ideas to help agriculture go truly green.

“Meating” People Is Easy

Improving agriculture’s impact on the climate is all about efficiency. Higher-quality feed for animals that will reduce their methane and nitrous-oxide output is one such idea, as is genetically engineering animals so they produce milk and meat more efficiently.

A nonprofit organization, the Good Food Institute, is searching for carbon-reducing solutions for agriculture. Co-founder Bruce Friedrich is featured in this docu-course, as he explains the efficiency problem that exists due to our current, carnivorous lifestyle.

“According to the World Resources Institute, the most efficient animal at turning the crops that we grow into edible meat for human beings is the chicken,” Friedrich said. “It takes nine calories fed to a chicken to get one calorie back out in the form of chicken meat. For pork it’s even worse: It’s 15 calories in to get one calorie back out, and for beef, it’s 40 calories in to get one calorie back out in the form of edible meat.”

This is an incredibly inefficient way to feed 10 billion people by the year 2050. However, the solution isn’t just to tell everyone to stop eating meat. Vegetarian and vegan groups have discouraged meat eating for half a century, but meat consumption continues to rise.

“At its most basic level, we cannot decarbonize food production if we are producing meat exclusively from live animals,” Friedrich said. “Live animals are going to produce methane; they are going to produce nitrous oxide. We need to satisfy the growing global demand for meat without the methane, without the nitrous oxide, without all the inefficiency, without the massive land needs of growing crops for animals and grazing animals.”

Cultivating Success

Until about 2009, plant-based meats were mostly the waste products of soy oil and wheat. While other major companies have done things differently, the Good Food Institute wants to take a new approach to decarbonizing meat: cultivated meat, which is simply meat cultivated directly from cells.

For the most part, the meat we eat is the end of the following process: Humans grow massive amounts of crops and feed them to animals on large farms. These animals eat that food and they grow, so their cells multiply and grow. Finally, those animals are sent to slaughterhouses so the meat can be processed out.

“Cultivated meat is actual animal meat but it’s cultivated directly from animal cells rather than raising entire live animals,” Friedrich said. “So it ends up being […] literally the exact same product except safer for people and their families and far more efficient and, consequently, a fraction of all of the environmental farms.”

It’s also much quicker. Raising chickens on farms and having them ready for the marketplace takes six to seven weeks, just from the time of birth to being large enough to process their meat. With cultivated meat, the same amount of meat can be gotten in one week. And as cows take up to two years to raise before they can be used for their meat, cultivated cow meat does the same job in just one week. The environmental impact isn’t quite zero, but it’s far lower than traditional livestock ranching.

Solving for Zero: The Search for Climate Innovations is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily