Time and time again, history has proven the power of technological breakthroughs. Well-known examples include the disturbance of horses by automobiles, film cameras by digital cameras, and landlines by smartphones.
“History shows that disruptions tend to make previous technologies obsolete in just 10 to 15 years. ” according to the new report “Rethinking Climate Change” from think tank RethinkX, which argues that existing technologies could replace those currently used in the energy, transport and food sectors, in the not too distant future.
The result? RethinkX estimates that such a transition could result in the elimination of more than 90% of net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2035.
The death of the livestock and aquaculture industries
The eight disruptive technologies referenced by RethinkX include solar photovoltaic, onshore wind and lithium-ion batteries in the energy sector; and in transport, electric vehicles and autonomous electric vehicles – the latter that will lead to transport as a service.
In the food industry, the think tank points to technologies designed to disrupt meat, milk and other animal products.
How can precision fermentation and cell farming disrupt such established industries? By their end products reaching price parity with animal products of all kinds.
As noted in its 2020 report on precision fermentation in dairy products, the research institute predicts that the technology will make protein production five times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than protein. existing animals.
“The precision with which proteins and other complex organic molecules will be produced also means that the foods made with them will be of better quality, safer, more consistent and available in a much greater variety than the animal products they replace. explained the authors of the report.
“The impact of this disruption on factory farming will be profound. The economic competitiveness of foods made with FP technology will be overwhelming. “
RethinkX predicts that cow products will be the first to “feel the full force” of the food disruption. And therefore, by 2030, the number of cows in the United States is expected to have declined by 50%. At that time, “the cattle industry will be practically bankrupt”.
“All other commercial farming industries around the world will quickly follow the same fate, as will commercial fishing and aquaculture. “
At the root of this disruption, RethinkX predicts that by replacing just a small percentage – 3.3% of a bottle of milk, for example – with precisely fermented milk protein, the entire cow’s milk could start to collapse.
“In some markets, only a small percentage of ingredients need to be replaced for an entire product to be disrupted”, explain the authors.
“The products we extract from animals will be replaced by superior, cheaper, cleaner and tastier alternatives, triggering a deadly spiral of rising prices, falling demand and reversing economies of scale for livestock and seafood industries. ‘
Superior quality products made on less land
Along with precision fermentation and cell farming, a new production model is emerging, according to RethinkX. Food-as-Software refers to “molecular cookbooks” that food engineers can use to design products, just as a software developer might design an application.
Food-as-Software is built on databases made up of individual molecules designed by scientists. Ultimately, its goal is to ensure “constant iteration,” the think tank explained, so that “products improve quickly,” with each version being “better and cheaper” than the last.
“It also means that the precision fermentation and cellular agriculture food system will be decentralized and therefore much more stable and resilient than industrial animal agriculture, with fermentation farms located in or near cities, as will breweries. are today. “
Such a food disturbance is expected to free up 80% of the land currently devoted to animal agriculture (3.3 billion hectares), which RethinkX says will present a “completely unprecedented” opportunity for conservation, rewilding and reforestation.
“Even without active reforestation, passive reforestation of this land through the natural reclamation process will capture and store carbon equivalent to up to 20% of today’s global emissions.
11% of agrifood emissions could be eliminated by 2035
Comparing today’s greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use, transportation and food, the majority (56.7%) comes from the former – mostly in the form of CO₂ produced by burning fossil fuels.
Next come emissions from the food sector, at 18% of the global greenhouse gas footprint. These are largely in the form of methane and nitrous oxide. The least important of the three is the transport sector, which accounts for a share of 16.2%.
Other sources outside of these sectors account for 8.4% of emissions, meaning that more than 90% of global emissions are associated with energy use, transportation and food – which, according to RethinkX, are “about to be disrupted” over the next 15 years.
“Today, the global food sector is responsible for around 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Our research shows that food disturbance could directly eliminate 11% of emissions from animal agriculture by 2035, and indirectly eliminate 20% of global emissions by 2035 due to reforestation on land freed from animal agriculture ” ,Report co-author Adam Dorr told FoodNavigator.
“This huge area of freed land is 2.3 billion hectares, the size of the United States, China and Australia combined, and the overall impact of reforestation on carbon removal is therefore enormous. . “
Accept, rather than resist, change
How quickly disruptions occur – and therefore how quickly greenhouse gas emissions are reduced – depends on the willingness of societies to adopt these technologies.
“Precision fermentation and cell farming are emerging from the R&D phase and are starting to roll out in the market today. This means that government policy is needed to design efficient markets – with judicious use of regulations, standards, and mandates, including appropriate bans on older, dirtier and older livestock and fishing industries. less human “, Dorr said.
The policy should also remove market barriers such as existing monopolies, and end subsidies and other protections for the “incumbent” animal agriculture and fishing industries, we were told.
“As with other disruptions, we can expect incumbent industries to resist disruption using all means at their disposal, even if this ultimately turns out to be futile.
“Moreover, contrary to popular belief, early data (with examples such as the Impossible Burger) shows that the majority of the public around the world is eager to embrace these new food technologies once the cost and quality will achieve parity with existing animal products – as we expect. they will do so in the 2020s. “