I'm not usually one to publicly make comment on another individual, truth be told, I'm popping my cherry in that department. But I simply couldn't resist after seeing the news yesterday.
The person is question is the Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates. He is generally regarded as a saviour, philanthropist and all round doer-of-good. Someone who is using their staggering wealth to better the planet. But in my opinion the man must be so ill-informed as to the mechanisms for reducing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and/or his vegan ways gets in the road of function.
Let me break this down:
Bill Gates is a proponent of a plant based diet and openly concurs that cattle (ruminants) are damaging for the planet and that is would be "great" for the planet if people ate less meat. He has even financially backed a number of plant-based meat alternatives including Beyond, Impossible and Memphis. He is even the largest private land owner in the USA. That's right, the man owns more farmland than and other individual (approximately 242,000 acres of farmland) - little doubt why he'd want to promote a plant based solution. But my point is that if carbon is truly the man's metric to impact then producing fake meat from intensively farmed soy and pea products is not the way to do it.
Cattle (if managed holistically) can be the tool which actually sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, creating a carbon sink in the soil. In fact an independent study was conducted looking at the net carbon output from Impossible Food production v's White Oak Pastures (a regenerative farm) and let's just say it didn't look particularly favourable for Impossible Food.
Mr Gates is now funding a start-up (he's reported to have thrown in a cool $4.8 million) who have engineered a mask (yes, a mask!) for cattle (yes, for cattle) which captures the expelled methane from the animals' mouth. This is the news which puts Mr Gates into the realm of mad and triggered my need to pen to paper so to speak. For one, the methane which is expelled (burped and belched) otherwise known as biogenic methane has a lifespan of 12 years in the atmosphere before being broken down. The methane is converted into carbon dioxide through hydroxyl oxidation. But here's the thing that gets over-looked:
As part of the biogenic carbon cycle, plants absorb carbon dioxide, and through the process of photosynthesis, they harness the energy of the sun to produce carbohydrates such as cellulose. Indigestible by humans, cellulose is a key feed ingredient for cattle and other ruminant animals. They are able to break it down in their rumens, taking the carbon that makes up the cellulose they consume and emitting a portion as methane, which is CH4 (note the carbon molecule). After about 12 years, the methane is converted into carbon dioxide through hydroxyl oxidation. That carbon is the same carbon that was in the air prior to being consumed by an animal. It is recycled carbon.
It's different from the methane being unlocked from fossil fuels deep inside the earth. Biogenic methane is part of a cycle which has been present for millennia. And it's not like there are more ruminants on the planet today. I mean it's not that long ago when the planet was home to 60 million bison which were systematically slaughtered during the 1800's on the plains of the USA to effectively eliminate a valuable resource for the native Indians. Population of bison fell to a few hundreds by the end of the century.
It's not obvious to me that Mr Gates has the planet's best interest at heart and is someone who genuinely wants to reduce atmospheric CO2. His investment and support in various companies and initiatives fail to address the culprit in crisis climate - CO2!
is he being ill-advised? Or is his vegan persuasion tainting his logic and commonsense? Or both?
It's not clear to me why we should be conjuring new foods (literally new food made in a laboratory environment) rather than simply improving the process and quality of current food options. Particularly when they are resource-heavy, expensive, detrimental to the environment and, quite frankly, full of shit I wouldn't feed to my dog (if I had one).
No Gates!....your wealth and influence shouldn't pave the way to place masks on cattle or line our shelves with lab-made fake meat masquerading as environmentally conscious food...that's a nonsense.
I'm all for commerce and competition, it's inevitable in our capitalist society, but when a man of his influence is spruiking a rhetoric which is pervasive yet absurd and misleading it grinds my gears, Gates appears to display little understanding of the mechanism of climate change and the solutions available instead uses his position to spread misinformation and confusion.
Keep your cow-masks and spurious food Mr Gates.