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Cows and methane gas

OPINION ~ Dairy Farmer or Climate Activist?

 

May 30, 2018

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By Taylor Flores

Humans are well aware of the imminent effects of climate change. In fact, drought-like conditions and extended fire seasons will be our new-normal due to the sheer amount of human-related greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, one variable of the climate change equation that is not well known among the general population is the effect of livestock on the production of greenhouse gasses. 

The agricultural ties run deep in Sonoma County with more than 70,000 cattle and calves as of January 1, 2017 according to the Sonoma County Crop Report. Even my own grandfather was a hog rancher in Petaluma.   

In 2014, the livestock sector created 8% of the total U.S. methane emissions. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas that traps and absorbs heat more effectively than carbon dioxide. Annually, the average cow produces 100 kg of methane, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from an average passenger vehicle traveling about 6,000 miles. Multiply that number by 70,000 cows and Sonoma County has a big problem on its hands.

Hope is restored with the new technologies developed through carbon farming. 

In the 2015 State of the State Address, Governor Brown made Natural and Working Lands the fifth pillar in California’s Climate Strategy, which aims to “remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through biological processes…” Additionally, programs such as Healthy Soils Program and Alternative Manure Management give further incentive for farmers to transition towards environmentally-friendly practices. Some of these practices include: highly digestible feeds, grinding forages, rotational grazing, and most notably, digester manure management. Through anaerobic digestion, the methane from cows’ manure is transformed into biogas that can be used as electricity; the residual solid matter can be used as compost or bedding, while the residual liquid can be used as flush water or fertilizer. Not only does a methane digester reduce the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, but it uses this gas to power the dairy itself, rather than relying on traditional fossil fuels.

However, some businesses cannot afford the nearly $400,000+ investment of a methane digester. Luckily, some local dairies have adopted “green” farming practices, such as Straus Family Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Furthermore, the government does offer programs and grants, as previously mentioned, but that still may not be enough incentive for some farmers to “go green.” 

Fossil fuels were a fundamental necessity for the development and growth of the U.S., but we have surpassed that reliance. Indeed, we have developed alternative energy technologies, such as biogas, wind, solar, and geothermal, but we have yet to implement any of these practices on a nation-wide scale. Our economy relies on the profits from fossil fuels, as do their owners and investors. 

The climate crisis has the potential to redistribute the wealth and power in our country, which some argue may in turn alleviate other social inequities. 

This is not to say that addressing climate change will answer every social injustice, but we have to start somewhere. On a localized level, I suggest for Sonoma County to increase regulations within farming practices; Straus and Point Reyes are only two examples of what can be achieved with sustainable farming practices. Sonoma could set a standard for not only the agriculture industry but collectively set a precedence for our state or country as a whole. 

Every year we fail to recognize climate change as an inevitable failure of human behaviors, the closer we come to our own extinction. If the climate movement does not receive validity from the President or federal government, the agriculture industry has the ability to legitimize our impending expiration. 

 

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