Larger U.S. Dairies Could Achieve Net Zero Emissions In Five Years

Dairy emissions could reach net zero within five years. If 10% of dairy in the US met that goal, GHG emissions could drop by 13 million tons

Among livestock, cows are the biggest emitters of methane in the U.S. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential of 80 times that of carbon dioxide. However, there is hope that the U.S. can make big reductions on its greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. dairy industry reduced its emissions by 18 percent from 2005 to 2015 while emissions from the global dairy industry increased by 18 percent during the same period. 

Analysis from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) finds that larger American dairies could reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions to zero within the next five years. Investing in dairy farms could yield a possible annual return of $1.9 million or more per farm. If only 10 percent of U.S. dairy production achieved net zero, GHG emissions could be reduced by over 13 million tons. 

“We need to make it easy for Americans to prioritize the planet when putting food on the table—to make all choices more sustainable so the burden isn’t on the consumer,” said Jason Clay, executive director of WWF’s Markets Institute, in a statement. “But we also need to make it feasible for farmers. Through this analysis, we’re showing how, with the right incentives and policies, dairy can get there, and get there quickly. And if it’s possible for dairy, other food sectors—and particularly other animal proteins—won’t be far behind.”

The problem of cow poo and digestion

Although the U.S. dairy industry has reduced emissions, making big reductions depends on dealing with their biggest sources of emissions: enteric fermentation (the cow’s digestive process that produces methane), manure management, feed production, and energy (farm energy use and generation). Manure is the industry’s second-largest source of emissions, but it can be part of the solution to reduce emissions. Using manure as fertilizer reduces the need for commercial fertilizer, whose manufacture is a significant source of emissions. 

Enteric fermentation is responsible for about 35 percent of the emissions produced by the dairy industry. The process refers to how cows, which are ruminants, eat and break down food not fit for humans. The analysis suggests that optimizing a cow’s feed will reduce emissions from enteric fermentation and is a key part of achieving net zero emissions. There is research currently being conducted on feed supplements to reduce methane emissions from enteric fermentation. The analysis cites a Dutch product that reported to reduce methane emissions from enteric fermentation by up to 40 percent. The supplement and others like it are not yet approved for use in the U.S. 

The unconventional path to net zero

The WWF advocates for sequestering some dairy emissions and mentions a development from the Salk Institute that involves using gene-edited seeds for cover crops to be used for sequestration. The analysis acknowledges that the development “is not sufficiently advanced to include in the estimates presented here.” However, it goes on to state that “such technologies have the potential to reduce loss of carbon to the atmosphere and help dairies achieve net zero emissions.” Such technology may or may not pan out, but if it does, it could prove to be a useful tool for U.S. dairies in achieving net zero emissions.


Photo by David Sjunnesson on Unsplash

What Will President Biden’s Environmental Policies Look Like?

Now that the electoral college voted for Joe Biden as the next president, it’s time to consider his environmental policies. They will definitely not look anything like Donald Trump’s policies that opened the nation’s air, water, and soil up to fossil fuel companies to exploit. 

Biden’s first days in office will certainly include undoing the damage of Trump’s policies. He has pledged to reinstate the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord. Biden will not need Senate approval since the U.S. involvement with the accord was set up by an executive action

A 100 percent clean energy economy and net zero-emissions by 2050

Achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050 is one of the key parts of Biden’s environmental policies and climate change plan. Using the federal government procurement system, which spends $500 billion annually, as a driver to meet the 100 percent clean energy goal is one of those measures. Making U.S. government buildings, facilities, and installations more efficient and environmentally-friendly is another measure. 

Biden’s plan recognizes that transportation is a key sector as it is the fastest-growing source of climate pollution. He pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several ways. One of those ways is by using the Clean Air Act. Another way is developing new fuel economy standards to ensure 100 percent of new sales for light and medium-duty vehicles will be electric.

Protecting nature

Biden’s environmental policies include a climate change plan committed to protecting nature. The exact opposite of President Trump’s administration. Instead of offering up public lands to fossil fuel and mining companies, Biden pledges to protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. Biden’s plan also includes protecting areas impacted by President Trump’s executive actions. The president-elect vows to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas that face environmental destructions due to Trump’s policies.

He pledges to ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters and create programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters. He has a goal to double offshore wind by 2030. 

Investing in clean energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles

Biden’s environmental policies also include pledges to make a federal investment of $1.7 trillion in clean energy over the next 10 years. He also pledges to leverage private sector and state and local investments to total more than $5 trillion in investments. This summer, Biden mentioned the $90 billion investment the Obama administration made in clean energy. “We’ll do it again, but this time bigger and faster and smarter,” Biden said. “We’re not just going to tinker around the edges. We’re going to make historic investments that will seize the opportunity and meet this moment in history.”  

The Biden plan will incentivize clean technology deployment in several ways. One of those is by improving the energy efficiency of the nation’s buildings. He pledges to set a goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock by 50 percent by 2035. Part of that includes directing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make housing for low-income communities more efficient and directing the U.S. Department of Energy to redouble efforts to accelerate new energy efficiency standards for household appliances.

Biden pledges to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles. One of the barriers to accelerating the deployment of EVs is the lack of charging stations. Biden’s plan includes working with governors and mayors to support deploying more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by 2030. He will also restore the full EV tax credit.

The next great railroad revolution

Biden’s plan includes starting the second great railroad revolution. The first part of his plan is bringing higher speed rail to the Northeast Corridor.

He pledges to shrink the travel time from Washington, D.C. to New York by half. He also pledges to make progress on California’s high-speed rail project, start constructing end-to-end high-speed rail across the Midwest and West, and begin construction of a high-speed rail system that will connect the coasts. 


Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

How Climate Change Affects Water In California’s San Joaquin Valley

In California, water is a big issue in California’s San Joaquin Valley, an agricultural region that supplies the nation and the world with food. It is an arid region, receiving around 12.8 inches of rain a year in Fresno, its largest city. 

Much of the area’s agricultural irrigation comes from snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which surround it. Climate change affects snowpack. When temperatures increase, there is less rain which leads to a reduced snowpack. “Snowpack in California is essential because it stores water that is used during the dry summer months to fill the state’s extensive system of reservoirs and deliver water to our homes and crops,” according to a guide by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). 

California’s complex water system and drought

Water in California is what the UCS describes as the state’s “connective tissue.” Over 1,300 federal, state, and local surface reservoirs dot the landscape throughout the state and capture rain, snowmelt, and runoff. There are thousands of miles of canals, natural waterways, and pipes that bring water to 40 million people in California. Cycles of drought and flooding stress the water system. Climate change will increase drought and floods.

Droughts and floods will become more intense in California over the next 20 to 50 years, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Drought affects groundwater levels. In California, groundwater levels increase during the wet season in the winter and decrease during the rest of the year, particularly during the dry season in the summer. Droughts that last longer are part of climate change impacts in the state. With drought, water levels in groundwater aquifers in the Valley decrease. 

In California, about 60 percent of the water supply comes from surface water, and 40 percent comes from groundwater. In a time of drought, that reverses, and groundwater becomes the main source of water. During the 2012 to 2016 drought, 60 percent of water came from groundwater, and 40 percent came from surface water. This resulted in higher costs for agriculture. Pumping groundwater requires energy, and over-pumping causes water tables to fall. 

The San Joaquin Valley’s economy depends on agriculture. Times of drought deeply affect agriculture. One of the fastest-growing areas in the state, it is also one of the poorest and warmest regions. Lower-income communities have fewer resources to cope with drought. Many Valley communities already cope with disproportionate poverty and depend heavily on agricultural jobs. Job loss from wells going dry is a real threat to Valley communities. 

Water quality and flooding in the Valley

In such an arid area, it may sound odd to discuss flooding, but floods are a real threat to the Valley. Rainstorms during the winter months will likely become more extreme, with more rainfall in shorter periods that could cause floods. The UCS guide uses the analogy of a sponge. When you slowly pour water on a sponge, it absorbs the water until the sponge is saturated. If you pour a large amount of water on the sponge all at once, much of the water will not be absorbed by the sponge but will run off of it. Soil is the sponge, and soil can’t absorb large amounts of rain in a short period. 

Water quality is another concern as climate change worsens water quality from surface water. Higher temperatures combined with nitrate contamination, cause toxic algae to flourish in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Algae suck all of the oxygen in the water, killing fish and other aquatic species. 

The state’s inadequate response 

California falls short on making its water supply climate change resilient, as a UCS analysis of the state’s water system points out. No state-level operations models capable of accounting for projected climate shifts exist. Past assumptions form the basis of many of the water decisions made in the state. The rules for when the state’s surface reservoirs must store or release water to protect against flooding serve as a good example. The rules stem from assumptions about the timing and intensity of reservoir inflows from over 50 to 60 years ago. Those rules created problems during the 2012 to 2016 drought by requiring the winter release of water that should have been stored. 

The UCS analysis suggests several steps on the federal, state, and local levels, including updating planning processes for climate shifts. That includes developing and using models representing the effects of climate shifts on the state’s water management. “The state should utilize these tools to require and facilitate the integration of quantitative climate planning into all aspects of state water management,” the analysis stated. 

California needs an adequate response to the climate change impacts on its water system. Forty million people in an economy ranked as the nation’s largest need a water system resilient enough to handle the increased drought and floods climate change brings.


Image by Chris Austin on Flickr

WorldWeWant Campaign Calls For Climate Action

What kind of world do we want? Do we want one where we are more likely to see wildfires and tropical storms? That’s the question we all need to ask ourselves. The sane answer is that we want a world where greenhouse gas emissions stay below the 2 degree Celsius increase that climate scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst climate change impacts.

In mid-October, the Climate Action Network launched the #WorldWeWant Campaign on Climate Impacts. The campaign highlights the consequences of climate inaction, calls on governments to deliver radical climate commitments, and highlights the voices of affected communities. Part of the campaign includes short films from communities around the world. The campaign posts the films with the #WorldWeWant hashtag. There are over 20 stories sourced through the campaign’s national, regional, and international members in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United States, Uganda, Costa Rica, Morocco, Tunisia, Mozambique, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia, Russia, Tajikistan, the Philippines, and Cambodia.

The year of climate action 

2020 is the year when all countries are expected to submit their national climate action plans to reduce emissions to put the world on a 1.5 degrees Celsius pathway. Only 13 countries submitted updated national climate plans to date, which represents only 3.6 percent of global emissions. December 12 marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement

The campaign calls on governments to submit updated national climate plans by the end of this year. It also calls on global financing institutions and developed countries to shift their financial investments from fossil fuels and support developing countries in investing in plans and policies that protect people from climate change impacts. The campaign also calls on governments to listen to the science and better prepare for extreme weather events, and to create a just and sustainable recovery that puts health and safety first while investing in resilience building and nature, and to abandon a fossil fuel growth model. 

What you can do

With a new administration taking office in January, we must make our voices heard about climate change. There are several easy ways to do so. One of those is through getting involved with the World We Want campaign. There are three ways you can get involved. You can become an influencer and help spread the word through social media, join the Policy Strategy Group and be a part of the team, or engage with the UN. 

You can also send an email message to the World Bank through the Big Shift campaign. The campaign calls on the World Bank to end direct and indirect financing for all fossil fuels, rapidly scale up investment in energy access. The campaign also calls on the World Bank to help lead a just transition by aligning all its lending and operations with a 1.5 C pathway, work with its peers to announce a joint multilateral development banks framework on alignment with 1.5 C by the end of 2020, and work on developing a high ambition coalition at the Finance in Common summit for ending fossil fuel financing from all public finance institutions. 


Photo by Eelco Böhtlingk on Unsplash

Why Trump Must Be Voted Out To Save the Environment

Not too long after taking office, Trump issued an executive order that for every new regulation enacted, two must be eliminated. The Brookings Institute tracked the administration’s deregulatory actions and found 74 actions, as of August 2020, taken to weaken environmental protection. The Trump environmental record has at least been consistent.

President Obama established the Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using the Clean Air Act. The plan reduced carbon emissions from the power sector. The Trump administration replaced the Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which will only result in a one percent reduction in GHG emissions from power plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Fuel economy standards are one way to reduce GHG emissions as transportation is the largest source of U.S. emissions. The Trump administration rolled back Obama-era fuel economy standards, which gave Americans $660 billion savings. The new standards take away $460 billion of those savings. The new standards increase GHG emissions by almost three gigatons of carbon, equivalent to nearly two years of emissions from the transportation sector.

In 2016, The Obama administration enacted a rule to reduce venting or flaring of methane from oil and gas production on public lands. The Trump administration rolled back the rule by releasing a replacement that rescinded most of it. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential far exceeding that of carbon. Methane accounts for 16 percent of climate change. 

The Trump administration rolled back rules designed to protect the air. One of those rules is the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) that limits the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. Mercury is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the soil and water. Mercury concentrates in fish and is particularly toxic for pregnant women and children. 

The Trump administration refused to strengthen National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Every five years, an independent science advisory committee reviews NAAQS. The administration packed the advisory committees with industry and anti-regulatory members, limited the scientific research the committees could consider and accelerated the process. 

In July 2020, the Trump Administration issued a rule to update the National Environmental Quality Act. The new rule aims to limit environmental reviews of projects to two years, limit climate change as part of environmental assessments, and excludes certain projects from the environmental assessment process. 

The Trump administration issued a rule that redefines and restricts the waterways the Clean Water Act protects. Under the rule, 51 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of streams lose federal protections. The streams and wetlands that lost protection serve as headwaters for rivers and lakes that provide drinking water for millions of Americans. 

The economic and health benefits of environmental regulation

The Trump administration deregulates environmental protections despite the benefits of protecting the nation’s air, water, and soil. The Office of Management and Budget looked at major regulations from 2005 to 2014 and found that the economic benefits greatly exceeded the costs every year. The benefits of environmental regulations exceeded costs by a ratio of more than 10 to one and provided net economic benefits to the U.S. of over $500 million a year. 

There are health benefits from environmental regulations. Fossil fuel-burning power plants discharge at least 5.5 billion pounds of pollution into bodies of water every year, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project. Wastewater from power plants contributed to more than 23,000 miles of contaminated rivers, polluted fish in 185 bodies of water, and the degradation of 399 bodies of water used as drinking water sources.

Perhaps the most iconic and far-reaching failure of the Trump Environmental Record rests with the Paris Agreement.

Trump and the Paris Agreement

President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an agreement about 195 countries to reduce their GHG emissions to avoid the worst climate change impacts. The U.S. is the only major GHG emitter in the world to withdraw from the agreement and cannot withdraw until the day after the 2020 election in November. A poll taken right after the 2016 election found that seven in 10 voters (69 percent) said the U.S. should participate in the Paris Agreement. Two-thirds of voters also said that the U.S. should reduce its GHG emissions, regardless of what other countries do, and 62 percent wanted Trump and Congress to do more to address climate change.

During his announcement about the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump mentioned the “draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” However, not doing anything to mitigate climate change will cost far more than the costs of complying with the Paris Agreement. A 2020 study found that delayed mitigation of climate change will reach 18 percent of global GDP in 2080 and further mitigation delay costs 0.5 trillion dollars a year. The damages due to delayed mitigation increase by 0.6 trillion dollars a year in 2020. In December, the House Committee On Oversight and Reform released estimates for the current economic effects of climate change. The estimates cite the data of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) which found that, as of December 2018, climate change cost U.S. taxpayers about $430 billion in disaster assistance since 2005. 

What you can do

You can do something to stop the environmental deregulation. Begin the hard road of reversing the Trump environmental record. Vote on November 3. 

How Meteorological Towers Are Tracking the Impact of Climate Change

Meteorological towers are powerful tools. They take in vast amounts of data and information every day, at all hours of the day. Climate researchers and scientists can then use this data to understand how the world and atmosphere are changing. 

On a large scale, the climate crisis is an urgent global issue that requires constant action. With the right data from these towers, researchers are one step closer to understanding the best paths to take to combat climate change. 

Understanding how the towers work is the first step in gaining the necessary data. From there, taking action is the ultimate goal. 

How Meteorological Towers Work

These meteorological towers come in many different heights. Some are shorter and stand at 20 feet tall, while others skyrocket to almost 1,000 feet. These differences account for the surrounding area and environment. A tower might need to be taller to get more data.

The data these towers receive include anything and everything relating to the climate. From wind speeds to soil temperatures, they have sensors for it all. Scientists and climate experts need detailed information to understand climate change. Air pressure, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, moisture, light intake, temperatures, precipitation, cloud coverage, and air chemistry are often the main focuses of these towers.  

The towers transmit this data back to a database or computer. Researchers then process the information and monitor changes. If concerning trends are rising, researchers can act accordingly and alert other organizations and governments about impending climate threats. For instance, with climate change comes hurricanes — the towers’ wind sensors can monitor the coming storms.

In the United States, these towers are popping up everywhere. Hawaii saw the installation of its first tower in May 2019, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is installing several around the country. Towers for business use are becoming more popular — one stands at around 33 feet and 35 pounds and is ideal for wind speed and direction equipment. These structures can benefit industries like the shipping sector by providing climate data on a daily basis.

The Climate Crisis

The above components are critical for monitoring everyday patterns. However, more importantly, they are invaluable for the ongoing climate crisis. The increasing installation of these towers across the country only reinforces the need to act immediately. 

For instance, monitoring precipitation, temperatures, and air chemistry may show changes in the climate that negatively impact environments and ecosystems. As air pollution increases, the air’s chemistry will change — including more CO2 emissions. Temperatures have been gradually rising as well, which directly contributes to the destruction of natural resources and habitats — like arctic regions. 

Using the tools from the meteorological towers, researchers can process the changing trends. They can see how the climate crisis worsens rainy and dry seasons. Natural disasters, too, see a direct correlation with global warming.

The meteorological towers then give researchers and scientists insight into how trends will continue to change. They are a warning system of sorts. The towers from NOAA, for instance, have sensors at different intervals, reaching up to almost 1,000 feet. The data these sensors capture then translates into trends, predictions, and actions. 

One instance where these towers have aided the fight against the climate crisis is in Virginia. At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), students and experts have been using the data from meteorological towers to monitor and protect wetlands. These environments are invaluable for helping animals and ecosystems thrive and purifying water naturally. Using data like temperatures, soil moisture, carbon levels, and precipitation shows what researchers need to do to protect these sites. 

The Power of Towers

With their innovative data collecting abilities, these meteorological towers are a gateway to a better understanding of climate change. From there, researchers can choose faster solutions to enact. It all begins with taking in as much data as possible.


Image by Mizzou CAFNR on Flickr

Trump’s Wildfire Prevention Funding Cuts

Trump’s budget for 2020 cut funding for a wildfire suppression program by almost $600 million, recent research by the Western Values Project found. His administration acknowledged that 63 million acres of federal forest lands and 70,000 communities are at risk of severe wildfires. “Instead of increasing budgets to try to prevent fires, the federal government has been relegated to fighting them once they’re blazing,” according to the research.

The Trump administration cut funds by more than half for a program that develops both fire prevention and management practices. Trump also cut $45 million in forest and rangeland research money and eliminated forest service research positions. Trump failed to increase funding to deal with wildfires. The budget for the National Forest Service’s wildland fire management activities remains at $2.4 billion, and Trump’s 2021 budget proposes the same amount. 

Trump withholds funding for political purposes, according to the Western Values Project. “Trump told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him and that politically it wasn’t a base for him,” said the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The USDA and NFS withheld $9 million worth of reimbursements owed to California fire agencies for their time spent fighting fires on federal lands.

Wildfires grow more severe every year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture budget summary for 2020 stated that over the past 10 years over 68,000 wildfires burned around 6.5 million acres on average. In 2018, California broke a record for the number of acres burned (1.7 million acres). This year, over four million acres burned and wildfires still rage across the state. 

California only owns three percent of forests

Trump blames California for the wildfires. “They’re starting again in California,” Trump said about wildfires. “I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”

California has 33 million acres of forest, and federal agencies own and manage 57 percent of them (19 million acres). State and local agencies only own three percent. Forty percent of the forests in the state are owned by families, Native American tribes, or companies, with industrial timber companies owning 14 percent (five million acres). 

The need for better wildfire funding

A 2015 USDA report predicted that the share of the budget devoted to wildfire suppression in 2025 could be over 67 percent. This amounts to two out of every three dollars the NFS receives from Congress. That likely means that funding for wildfire prevention could continue to be slashed. The same report points out that the Vegetation and Watershed Management Program plays a key role in restoring lands after wildfires. The funding for the program has been reduced since 2001. As a result, the rate of restoration the agency could have achieved across all NFS lands has decreased.

Changing the way the federal government pays for wildfire prevention is the solution. That means treating wildfires like other natural disasters. Bipartisan legislation offering a more rational approach to funding wildfires is needed, the report points out. Since wildfires in western states are likely to increase, that legislation can’t come fast enough. 

Do you want to see a more sensible approach to wildfire prevention and funding? Vote the Trump administration out of office on November 3. 


Featured image by Glenn Belz on Flickr

COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy

Fight another day

The first COP climate conference of the Trump presidency wrapped up last week. True to form, the final gavel fell in the “wee hours” of Saturday morning.

Lacking the excitement of COP21 two years ago, COP23 is nonetheless one more step in the long road of transforming into reality the global aspiration expressed in Paris.

That reality is by no means assured. Despite the political upheaval of the past year, we survive to fight another day.

Life in the Anthropocene

A race to where?

Continue reading “COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy”

Leading Experts Make the Case for Climate Action in the United States

A new, cross-disciplinary white paper authored by three prominent international climate experts for the US-based Universal Ecological Fund refutes the notion that taking proactive actions to mitigate and adapt to rapid climate warming runs contrary to U.S. domestic economic interests.

It was precisely that contention that President Donald J. Trump used to justify his intention to back the US out of its commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, to which then President Barack Obama committed the US in December 2015.

In contrast to numerous other studies that have sought to assess the multitude of impacts and effects climate warming has and will continue to have over the course of the 21st century, the FEU-US study, “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States,” zooms in on economic losses resulting from extreme weather events, and on health costs of exposure to air pollution that result from burning fossil fuels. Continue reading “Leading Experts Make the Case for Climate Action in the United States”

Climate Migration, the Paris Agreement, and the Delusion of Isolation

One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic

Forced MigrationBe it from social unrest, economic upheaval, or environmental collapse, forced human migration is at unprecedented levels. According to the UNHCR, there are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today. Of those, more than 22 million are forced refugees. Over half are under 18 years old. Nearly 20 people are displaced from their homes every minute.

Continue reading “Climate Migration, the Paris Agreement, and the Delusion of Isolation”