In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring that by 2045, all electricity in California should come from clean energy sources.
James Robo, chief executive of Next Era Energy, the Fortune 200, predicts that by the early 1920s, even if storage costs are taken into account, solar farms and large wind turbines will cost less to generate electricity than coal-fired power plants.
Can technology really save us from catastrophic climate change?
The answer is not enough. Even if the world turns to clean electricity and uses this clean energy to power electric cars, buses and trucks, another major source of greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow, namely meat production.
Image: clean meat cultivated in culture dishes and test tubes.
At present, animal husbandry accounts for about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the same as all global automotive emissions. However, with the explosion of hybrid and electric vehicles, vehicle emissions are expected to decline. By 2050, global meat consumption is expected to grow by 76% over recent years. Much of that growth will come from Asia, especially China.
Meat production is becoming a huge driver of climate change, according to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London in its Changing Climate, Changing Diets report.
At the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, all participants agreed that a two-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels would pose unimaginable risks. Beyond this limit, the feedback loop will take effect, causing the warming to intensify. For example, the thawing Siberian permafrost will release large amounts of methane, which will lead to increased warming, which in turn will lead to more methane release and a vicious cycle. Methane is a greenhouse gas. Its effect on warming the earth is 30 times that of carbon dioxide.
The growing demand for meat means that livestock emissions will continue to rise and will absorb a growing share of the remaining carbon budget. The climate change and diet report says this makes it very difficult to limit the temperature up to 2 degrees Celsius.
One reason meat produces more greenhouse gases than food plants is that we need fossil fuels to grow grains and soybeans and feed them to animals. Animals use most of the energy in plants to support their movements, breathing and keep their bodies warm. Obviously, using animals to provide meat requires more plant food, and we have to grow a variety of edible plants several times as many as we need ourselves.
Another important factor is the production of methane in ruminants (mainly cattle and sheep) during digestion. Beef produced by feeding botanical cattle has even more severe impacts on climate than beef provided by feeding cattle on fodder. Grass-fed cattle gain less weight than corn and soybeans, which emit more emissions per kilogram of meat.
If technology can bring us clean energy, can it also bring us clean meat? The word clean meat is being used to encourage people to cultivate meat at the cell level. They use it not to compare it with clean energy, but to emphasize that the flesh of living animals is dirty because living animals need to emit waste. Bacteria in animal viscera and feces also often pollute meat.
Cells cultured in bioreactors do not require living animals, feces, or bacteria from the digestive system to mix into meat, let alone methane. This meat does not require living animals to absorb more energy to keep warm and move, nor does it grow parts of the body that we do not eat. Therefore, in the sense of environmental protection, meat production in this way is much more efficient and cleaner than animal production.
Many start-ups are now working on cleaning meat to the market. Meat and flavor plant products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger have been sold in restaurants and supermarkets. Clean hamburger meat, fish, dairy products and other animal products are produced without raising or slaughtering live animals. Although the price of this kind of clean meat is not comparable to that of animal products, its production costs are falling rapidly. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and key U.S. Department of Agriculture officials held a meeting to discuss how to use this method to produce meat more regularly.
Now Tyson Foods and Cargill, the worlds two largest meat producers, are investing in companies that try to produce meat without raising animals. Justin Whitmore, executive vice president of Tyson Foods, said: We dont want to be subverted, we want to be part of the tide of subversion.
Its a brave gesture for companies that rely on raising and killing tens of billions of animals to become rich, but Tyson Foods admits they cant resist new technologies when they create products that people want. Richard Branson, a British tycoon investing in Memphis Meats, a biotechnology company, says that in 30 yearstime, we will look back and be shocked by the mass killing of animals for food. If this happens, science and technology will make possible the greatest moral advance in human history, namely, saving the planet and eliminating the tremendous suffering of animals caused by industrialized agriculture.
Source: NetEase science editor: Qiao Jun Jing _NBJ11279