One element of the Green New Deal reads, “Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”
We’ve only recently begun talking about it, but modern agriculture emits a lot of CO2. About 9% of US emissions stem from agriculture. About half of those emissions are from crop production, 40% from livestock (and are actually as much methane as CO2) and the remaining 10% is attributed to the business of farming–transportation, storage and the like.
The US agricultural sector has come a long way in terms of becoming more sustainable (while still improving productivity). Managing agriculture with an eye on CO2 is somewhat different than managing with the goal of maintaining topsoil, stopping erosion, controlling fertilizer runoff, etc. It requires a different perspective.
We’re quickly learning how to do this and there are current estimates that just by improving soil management we can cut global CO2 emissions by (optimistically, and trials are just starting) 10%.
We also could cut methane production in livestock by maintaining smaller herds. Cue the current introduction of meatless burgers by Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and soon-to-be-introduced products by Tyson.
There are a lot of reasons for Americans to eat less meat. The average American man today weighs 191 pounds, the average woman 171. That’s in part due to the 110 pounds of red meat they consume each year. In addition to weight, excessive meat consumption is linked to coronary disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, according to the National Institute of Health.
The methane cows produce is about 28 times as potent as CO2 in terms of trapping outgoing radiation. Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere, but that’s small consolation.
Tweaking soil management practices to emphasize CO2 take-up would not be very expensive. Reducing meat consumption and downsizing the herds of livestock (we currently have 95 million cows in the US) would contribute to several elements of the Green New Deal. Unfortunately it’s hard to quantify at this point without doing quite a bit of research. We will do it, but later. We at this stage just wanted to highlight this as part of the Green New Deal that in theory should not be opposed by many outside of some industry organizations.
If we could reduce CO2 emissions by 10% by improved soil management, and reduce methane emissions by eating less meat, it could serve to push back the (somewhat artificial) deadline for being at net zero emissions. It might buy us time.
We will go into greater depth on these issues in separate posts at a later date.