According to a new study from University of California, Davis researchers, California dairies are set to be climate neutral—contributing no additional warming to the atmosphere—as soon as 2027, challenging the narrative that cattle products must be abandoned for the environment’s sake.
Peer-reviewed and published in CABI Biological Sciences, the study outlines how dairy impacts the planet’s climate, and how the dairy industry is adopting new technologies to not only be one of the first climate neutral industries in California, but will soon start chipping away at past emissions as well.
Cows have special stomachs that allow them to process grass, the side effect of which is the emission of short-lived, but high-greenhouse-gas-intensity methane that eventually breaks down into carbon dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere. Plants and crops grown to feed dairy then absorb that carbon dioxide to create the matter that cows eat. By reducing the methane emitted from cows—whether by turning it into carbon-negative renewable natural gas, or using feed additives that reduce cows’ methane production—this cycle could very easily become emissions-negative within the next few years.
This reality stands in stark contrast to headline-grabbing claims that “ending meat and dairy production would “pause” the growth of greenhouse gas emissions for 30 years.”
“What’s most exciting about this study is that it shows the aggressive methane reductions the dairy sector has pursued will not only lead to a point in which they are no longer adding warming to the atmosphere, but can go further and chip away at historical emissions. Agriculture is one of the few sectors that can do that,” said UC Davis professor and air quality specialist Frank Mitloehner. “The rest of the world is looking at how California is reducing methane, and sees that significant reductions are possible and have a big impact on a sector’s climate footprint.”