Impossible This & That

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Pat Brown, Impossible’s founder, argues that we can’t fight climate change unless we get rid of cows. The Voorhes for The New Yorker

What can you not live without? Better yet, what might we live without that would have a positive impact on climate change? The answer to that is Pat Brown’s mission. And his story is better told in the story below than any other place where I have read about impossible this, and impossible that. I am heartened to read of Impossible’s progress as much as I am embarrassed by my own failure to cut meat consumption more than I have. My reduction has been dramatic, but not radical. Compared to my most meat-intensive eating days I have reduced animal protein intake by at least 70%; until I get to 100%, I will remain embarrassed. Thanks to Tad Friend for cheering me on with this longform view into Impossible this and that:

Can a Burger Help Solve Climate Change?

Eating meat creates huge environmental costs. Impossible Foods thinks it has a solution.

Cows are easy to love. Their eyes are a liquid brown, their noses inquisitive, their udders homely; small children thrill to their moo.

Most people like them even better dead. Americans eat three hamburgers a week, so serving beef at your cookout is as patriotic as buying a gun. When progressive Democrats proposed a Green New Deal, earlier this year, leading Republicans labelled it a plot to “take away your hamburgers.” The former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka characterized this plunder as “what Stalin dreamt about,” and Trump himself accused the Green New Deal of proposing to “permanently eliminate” cows. In fact, of course, its authors were merely advocating a sensible reduction in meat eating. Who would want to take away your hamburgers and eliminate cows?

Well, Pat Brown does, and pronto. A sixty-five-year-old emeritus professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, Brown is the founder and C.E.O. of Impossible Foods. By developing plant-based beef, chicken, pork, lamb, dairy, and fish, he intends to wipe out all animal agriculture and deep-sea fishing by 2035. His first product, the Impossible Burger, made chiefly of soy and potato proteins and coconut and sunflower oils, is now in seventeen thousand restaurants. When we met, he arrived not in Silicon Valley’s obligatory silver Tesla but in an orange Chevy Bolt that resembled a crouching troll. He emerged wearing a T-shirt depicting a cow with a red slash through it, and immediately declared, “The use of animals in food production is by far the most destructive technology on earth. We see our mission as the last chance to save the planet from environmental catastrophe.”

Meat is essentially a huge check written against the depleted funds of our environment. Agriculture consumes more freshwater than any other human activity, and nearly a third of that water is devoted to raising livestock. One-third of the world’s arable land is used to grow feed for livestock, which are responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Razing forests to graze cattle—an area larger than South America has been cleared in the past quarter century—turns a carbon sink into a carbon spigot.

Brown began paying attention to this planetary overdraft during the late two-thousands, even as his lab was publishing on topics ranging from ovarian-cancer detection to how babies acquire their gut microbiome. In 2008, he had lunch with Michael Eisen, a geneticist and a computational scientist. Over rice bowls, Brown asked, “What’s the biggest problem we could work on?”

“Climate change,” Eisen said. Duh.

“And what’s the biggest thing we could do to affect it?” Brown said, a glint in his eye. Eisen threw out a few trendy notions: biofuels, a carbon tax. “Unh-unh,” Brown said. “It’s cows!”

When the world’s one and a half billion beef and dairy cows ruminate, the microbes in their bathtub-size stomachs generate methane as a by-product. Because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, some twenty-five times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide, cattle are responsible for two-thirds of the livestock sector’s G.H.G. emissions. (In the popular imagination, the culprit is cow farts, but it’s mostly cow burps.) Steven Chu, a former Secretary of Energy who often gives talks on climate change, tells audiences that if cows were a country their emissions “would be greater than all of the E.U., and behind only China and America.” Every four pounds of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London—and the average American eats that much each month.

“So how do we do it?” Eisen asked.

“Legal economic sabotage!” Brown said. He understood that the facts didn’t compel people as strongly as their craving for meat, and that shame was counterproductive. So he’d use the power of the free market to disseminate a better, cheaper replacement. And, because sixty per cent of America’s beef gets ground up, he’d start with burgers…

Read the whole story here.

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