America's New Green Deal: Will Biden Ban Burgers?

President Joseph R. Biden's climate policy has recently triggered rumors in right-wing American media of a potential burger ban in America. Such speculations about beef ban have been categorically denied by Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, there are reasons to believe that the Biden focus on renewable energy alone will not be enough to achieve his ambitious targets. The current food production methods, particularly the beef industry, will also have to be fundamentally redesigned to meet Biden's climate goal of 50-52% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. Other industrial processes that will need fundamental rethink to reduce emissions include production of cement, steel and plastics. Dealing with these challenges will require a lot of innovation and new technologies. It presents an opportunity for technology entrepreneurs to reshape the world yet again.  

Meatless Meat Products

Impact of Meat Production:

Animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Relatively large animals like buffaloes, cows and pigs are raised in huge numbers to cater to meat and dairy demand. These animals emit methane gas which is a powerful pollutant that is much more potent than carbon dioxide. Almost 15% of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, with cattle making up about two-thirds of that. Livestock farming also requires a lot of land, a significant cause of deforestation in places like Brazil’s Amazon. 

What is making the situation worse is that the demand for meat and dairy is rising in large developing countries like China, India and Pakistan. It is putting greater pressure on the environment and making it difficult to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times. 

Alternative Meats:

Several technology companies are working on plant-based and cell-based meats to offer a climate-friendly alternative to beef, chicken and pork. Plant-based meats from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are already producing and shipping in significant quantities. 

Other technology companies are working on cell-based meats grown in large vats from real animal cells. These companies include San Francisco-based Eat Just and Berkeley-based Memphis Meats, just to name a few.  In a recently published book entitled "Billion Dollar Burger", author Chase Purdy detailed his findings on lab-grown meats. Here is an except from the book:

"By harvesting animal cells and quite literally growing them into fat and muscle tissue inside industrial bioreactors, humans have figured out how to create the exact same meats we’ve eaten for more than half a million years. In doing so, those scientists hope to enable us to sidestep the need to slaughter billions of animals annually, and theoretically, in time, eliminate the need for an industrial farming system that pumps an alarming amount of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s warming atmosphere each year. Scientists agree that animal agriculture is responsible for about 14 percent of greenhouse greenhouse gas emissions. Fully wrapping our heads around the impact of the animal agriculture system we’ve always known is mind-bogglingly difficult. Lots of scientists attempt to measure the full environmental footprint of animal agriculture, and almost all of them have run into fierce sets of critics who challenge their methodologies and motives. Did the scientist measure the life cycle of a single animal and then multiply those data to represent its specific sector? Did they include data on the energy used to grow, manage, and transport the feed grain for cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals? How about factoring in deforestation to make room for grazing? Or the long impact of water pollution from nitrous oxide in manure?"

Industrial Processes:

The focus of most of the governments' climate policies has so far been on switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. A quick look at common industrial processes like cement, steel and plastic production shows that these processes are major contributors to global warming.  Cement and steel production each contributes 8% of global greenhouse emissions.  All of these materials are essential for modern construction and manufacturing industries. 

Cement production contributes greenhouse gases both directly through the production of carbon dioxide when calcium carbonate is thermally decomposed, producing lime and carbon dioxide, and also through the use of energy, particularly from the combustion of fossil fuels. Similarly, steel-making requires the use of coal to remove oxygen from iron oxide ore. This process emits large amounts of carbon dioxide. Plastics, extracted from oil, are used to make a huge range of products today. Extraction and transportation of oil and production of plastics all produce large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Changing the production processes of widely used materials like cement, plastics and steel poses a major technological challenge. Among the methods proposed for reducing carbon emissions from these processes is carbon capture...both point carbon capture and direct air capture. Here's an excerpt of Bill Gates' recent book entitled "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" on climate-friendly industrial processes for cement, steel and plastics: 

"One approach is to take recycled carbon dioxide—possibly captured during the process of making cement—and inject it back into the cement before it’s used at the construction site. The company that’s pursuing this idea has several dozen customers already, including Microsoft and McDonald’s; so far it’s only able to reduce emissions by around 10 percent, though it hopes to get to 33 percent eventually. Another, more theoretical approach involves making cement out of seawater and the carbon dioxide captured from power plants. The inventors behind this idea think it could ultimately cut emissions by more than 70 percent. Yet even if these approaches are successful, they won’t give us 100 percent carbon-free cement. For the foreseeable future, we’ll have to count on carbon capture and—if it becomes practical—direct air capture to grab the carbon emitted when we make cement. For pretty much all other materials, the first thing we need is plenty of reliable clean electricity. Electricity already accounts for about a quarter of all the energy used by the manufacturing sector worldwide; to power all these industrial processes, we need to both deploy the clean energy technology we already have and develop breakthroughs that let us generate and store lots of zero-carbon electricity inexpensively. And soon we’ll need even more power, as we pursue another way to reduce emissions: electrification, which is the technique of using electricity instead of fossil fuels for some industrial processes. For example, one very cool approach for steelmaking is to use clean electricity to replace coal. A company I’m following closely has developed a new process called molten oxide electrolysis: Instead of burning iron in a furnace with coke, you pass electricity through a cell that contains a mixture of liquid iron oxide and other ingredients. The electricity causes the iron oxide to break apart, leaving you with the pure iron you need for steel, and pure oxygen as a by-product. No carbon dioxide is produced at all. This technique is promising—it’s similar to a process we’ve been using for more than a century to purify aluminum—but like the other ideas for clean steel it hasn’t yet been proven to work at an industrial scale. Clean electricity would help us solve another problem too: making plastics. If enough pieces come together, plastics could one day become a carbon sink—a way to remove carbon rather than emit it. "   


Climate change is a major challenge for humanity. It goes beyond energy production and consumption. Areas that account for bulk of greenhouse emissions include production of food, cement, plastics and steels. Dealing with these challenges will require a lot of innovation and new technologies. It presents an opportunity for technology entreprenrurs to reshape the world yet again.  

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan Electric Vehicle Policy

Nuclear Power in Pakistan

Pakistan Cement Production

Pakistan's Response to Climate Change

Massive Oil and Gas Discovery in Pakistan: Hype vs Reality

Renewable Energy for Pakistan

Digital BRI: China and Pakistan Building Fiber, 5G Networks

LNG Imports in Pakistan

Growing Water Scarcity in Pakistan

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Ownership of Appliances and Vehicles in Pakistan

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Riaz Haq's YouTube Channel

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Comment by Riaz Haq on May 8, 2021 at 9:06pm

The idea of artificially cooling the planet to blunt climate change — in effect, blocking sunlight before it can warm the atmosphere — got a boost on Thursday when an influential scientific body urged the United States government to spend at least $100 million to research the technology.

That technology, often called solar geoengineering, entails reflecting more of the sun’s energy back into space through techniques that include injecting aerosols into the atmosphere. In a new report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said that governments urgently need to know whether solar geoengineering could work and what the side effects might be.

“Solar geoengineering is not a substitute for decarbonizing,” said Chris Field, director of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University and head of the committee that produced the report, referring to the need to emit less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Still, he said, technology to reflect sunlight “deserves substantial funding, and it should be researched as rapidly and effectively as possible.”

The report acknowledged the risks that have made geoengineering one of the most contentious issues in climate policy. Those risks include upsetting regional weather patterns in potentially devastating ways, for example by changing the behavior of the monsoon in South Asia; relaxing public pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and even creating an “unacceptable risk of catastrophically rapid warming” if governments started reflecting sunlight for a period of time, and then later stopped.

But the authors argue that greenhouse gas emissions are not falling quickly enough to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, which means the world must begin to examine other options. Evidence for or against solar geoengineering, they found, “could have profound value” in guiding decisions about whether to deploy it.

That includes evidence about what the authors called the social risks: For example, if research showed that the side effects would be concentrated in poorer nations, Dr. Field said, it could be grounds not to pursue the technology, even if it benefited the world as a whole.


Tylar Greene, a spokeswoman for NASA, which helped fund the report, said in a statement that “we look forward to reviewing the report, examining recommendations, and exploring how NASA and its research community can support this effort.”

Ko Barrett, deputy assistant administrator at NOAA, which also helped fund the report, said in a statement that the agency looked forward to “carefully reviewing” it. The Department of Energy, another funder, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The endorsement by the National Academies might make some lawmakers feel more comfortable supporting the technology, according to Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School and editor of a book on solar geoengineering.

And rather than causing people to care less about curbing greenhouse gas emissions, he said, a large new federal research program into geoengineering might have the opposite effect: Jolting the public into taking climate change seriously by demonstrating that more extreme and dangerous options may soon be necessary.

“It could be so scary that people will be even more motivated to reduce emissions,” Mr. Gerrard said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on May 18, 2021 at 12:25pm

#IEA: Nations Must Drop #Fossil Fuels, Fast. It would very likely keep the average global temperature from increasing 1.5 C above preindustrial levels — beyond which scientists say the #Earth faces irreversible damage. #renewableenergy #ClimateCrisis

That’s significant, given the fact that the influential agency is not an environmental group but an international organization that advises world capitals on energy policy. Formed after the oil crises of the 1970s, the agency’s reports and forecasts are frequently cited by energy companies and investors as a basis for long-term planning.

“It’s a huge shift in messaging if they’re saying there’s no need to invest in new fossil fuel supply,” said Kelly Trout, senior research analyst at Oil Change International, an environmental advocacy group.

Several major economies, including the United States and the European Union, have recently pledged to zero out their emissions responsible for global warming by midcentury. But many world leaders have not yet come to grips with the extraordinary transformation of the global energy system that is required to do so, the agency warned.

“The sheer magnitude of changes needed to get to net zero emissions by 2050 is still not fully understood by many governments and investors,” Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director, said in an interview.

Net zero emissions doesn’t mean countries would stop emitting carbon dioxide altogether. Instead, they would need to sharply reduce most of the carbon dioxide generated by power plants, factories and vehicles. Any emissions that could not be fully erased would be offset, such as by forests or artificial technologies that can pull carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere.

To reach that goal of net zero worldwide by 2050, every nation would need to move much faster and more aggressively away from fossil fuels than they are currently doing, the report found.

For instance, the annual pace of installations for solar panels and wind turbines worldwide would have to quadruple by 2030, the agency said. For the solar industry, that would mean building the equivalent of what is currently the world’s largest solar farm every day for the next decade.

For now, the world remains off course. Last month, the agency warned that global carbon dioxide emissions were expected to rise at their second-fastest pace ever in 2021 as countries recovered from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and global coal burning neared a high, led by a surge of industrial activity in Asia.

“We’re seeing more governments around the world make net-zero pledges, which is very good news,” Mr. Birol said. “But there’s still a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 19, 2021 at 8:16am

“Doubt is Our Product”: It’s vital that scientists engage with the public and the media to ensure that their research is accurately represented

Recent research by Marcus Munafò and colleagues suggested that standardised cigarette packs increase the prominence of health warnings in non-smokers and light smokers. Interestingly, they didn’t see this in regular smokers. However, the research was misrepresented by British American Tobacco, who used it to argue that “plain packaging may actually reduce smokers’ attention to warnings”. He argues that scientists have the responsibility to make sure that their research is accurately represented, and that attempts to misrepresent their research are challenged.

Cigarette smoking is addictive. Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Today these statements are uncontroversial, but it’s easy to forget that this was not the case until relatively recently. The first studies reporting a link between smoking and lung cancer appeared in the 1950’s (although scientists in Germany had reported a link earlier), while the addictiveness of tobacco, and the isolation of nicotine as the principal addictive constituent, was not established until some time later. Part of the reason for this is simply that scientific progress is generally slow, and scientists themselves are typically not the kind of people to get ahead of themselves.

However, another factor is that at every stage the tobacco industry has resisted scientific evidence which indicates harms associated with the use of its products. One way in which it has done this is by suggesting that there is uncertainty around the core evidence base used to support tobacco control policies. A 1969 document from the Brown and Williamson tobacco company (a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) outlines this strategy: “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ [linking smoking with disease] that exists in the mind of the general public”.

This approach seeks to “neutralize the influence of academic scientists”, and has since been adopted more widely by other lobby groups. The energy industry has used a similar approach in response to consensus among climate scientists on the role of human activity in climate change. But what’s the problem? There are always a number of ways to interpret data, scientists will hold different theoretical positions despite being in possession of the same basic facts, people are entitled to their opinion. That’s fine, but the tobacco industry goes beyond this and actively misrepresents the facts. Why do I care? Because recently our research was misrepresented in this way.

There is ongoing debate around whether to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products. This is a prominent policy issue in the UK and elsewhere at the moment, particularly following recent claims that David Cameron’s electoral strategist, Lynton Crosby, may have influenced the decision to drop the introduction of standardised packaging from the coalition government’s planned legislation. The tobacco company Philip Morris International has a contract with Lynton Crosby’s firm, Crosby Textor Fullbrook, for lobbying work in the UK, including on standardised packaging of tobacco.

Public health campaigners mostly favour standardised packaging, while the tobacco industry is opposed to it. No particular surprises there, but given that only Australia has so far introduced standardised packaging there’s a need for more research to inform the debate.


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