Transitioning Animal Farms To Offset Carbon Emissions
Despite the fact that animal agriculture creates about 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate policy typically focuses on addressing electricity and fuel. While there are many different ways to regulate carbon emissions, the authors of this paper believe that funding farms that are transitioning from farming animals to crops for human consumption isn’t given enough attention. In this paper, they explore how feasible it is to apply such a “carbon offset” market to animal farms, focusing on the overall climate benefits.
The carbon offset market is a great tool used by many sectors within carbon policy. In short, companies purchase “offset credits” that fund a project aimed at reducing emissions — for example, a reforesting project or an initiative to develop alternative energy in a developing country. Some projects have multiple environmental co-benefits beyond carbon reductions, which can be combined in what is referred to as credit stacking. The authors note that credit stacking could benefit a lot of animal farmers in their transition, as switching to plant farming would improve air, land, water, and biodiversity.
Legitimate offset programs must meet several criteria in order to be effective. These criteria include ensuring additionality and appropriate credits, assessing potential leakage, confirming verifiability and permanence, and making sure to avoid social and environmental harms.
Additionality And Fairness In Credits
In a genuine offset program, the emissions reductions that companies achieve shouldn’t occur regularly without the credit program. In other words, the program must generate “additional” reductions.
Furthermore, offset credits must be conservative and realistic. In other words, companies shouldn’t be given more credits than their project is worth.
Leakage is an unintended increase in GHG emissions caused by a project. Using an animal farm transition as an example, leakage may occur either if its farmed animals were sold to other operable farms or if new farms came into existence to meet the demand for animal products. The authors believe that transitioning farmers should not be allowed to sell their animals to active farmers as part of an offset program. However, this would likely mean selling animals to a slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, the risk of new animal farms entering the market depends on many different factors including the impact of government subsidies and the fixed and variable costs of running an animal farm.
According to the authors, ensuring that the price of animal products does not go up too much may assist in reducing leakage during a transition. One key to this is having accessible and tasty meat alternatives that are considered comparable to conventional animal products. Also, having more affordable plant-based options as animal product costs go up can also aid in leakage reduction. Finally, legal actions such as requiring permits for farm expansion and prohibiting new factory farms from being established may limit leakage from the supply side of the market.
Legitimate offset programs rely on well-developed methodologies for tracking their progress. When it comes to transitioning from animal agriculture to plant agriculture, the authors believe verifiability is straightforward as farm transitions tend to be quite large and easy to monitor (e.g., through satellite imagery).
Some carbon offset programs result in GHG reductions at first but may be reversible over time. An example is a reforestation project, where carbon could be emitted later on due to a wildfire or future deforestation. However, in the case of farm transitions, the emissions reduction is considered permanent and nonreversible.
Avoiding Social And Environmental Harm
Finally, carbon offset programs must ensure that the project avoids social and environmental problems. Farm transitions can aid in the reduction of deforestation, air pollution, soil degradation, and water runoff. These are obvious environmental benefits beyond reducing GHG emissions alone.
In addition, farm transitions may improve farmer exploitation. Farmers in the U.S. face a number of financial challenges, and the authors argue that animal farmers can struggle for years under the thumb of large meat corporations until finally collapsing well after it would have been wise to exit the market. Meanwhile, research suggests that crop farming can offer lower levels of debt and higher income levels.
Animal welfare is another social benefit of farm transitions. As many advocates are aware, animal cruelty is commonplace for farmed animals in factory farms from birth until death. Between atrocious living conditions, genetic modifications, and inhumane slaughter practices, farmed animals suffer greatly. In addition, many farmed animals are given antibiotics to increase their capability of survival in these horrible conditions. This unfortunately can result in antibiotic resistance in the humans who eat them. This makes us more susceptible as a species to things like pandemics and diseases.
Finally, the authors argue that the current agricultural system is broken, resulting in food scarcity in some locations with rampant food waste in others. Animal agriculture is one cause of this, as animals eat plants that could feed society while converting them inefficiently into fewer calories. In addition, extensive research has found that consuming excess animal products results in preventable human diseases. Farm transitions can assist in these shortcomings by making calories more efficient and reducing the prevalence of disease and illness in the West.
Farm transitions don’t currently receive a lot of attention, but the authors believe they are a realistic and promising way to address the climate crisis. While there are some precedents for animal farms having transitioned to plant farms around the world, the authors call for more research into the precise climate benefits of farm transition programs and the potential complications they may not have anticipated.
The authors also call for more research into other factors that can affect the success of farm transition programs, including whether meat alternatives are a feasible way to replace animal products as more farms transition to plant-only agriculture. Animal advocates can play a role in this area by encouraging the public to embrace meat alternatives and pushing social norms away from meat consumption and toward plant-forward diets.