In summary

Livestock represent more than 50% of all methane generated in California, contributing to climate-warming greenhouse gases. We should double down on investments in methane-reduction programs as effective, short-term climate solutions.

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By Chuck Ahlem, Special to CalMatters

Chuck Ahlem is a San Joaquin Valley dairy farmer and former undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture,

As legislators return to Sacramento for final deliberations this year, prioritizing funding for methane reduction should be the first order of business. 

Last week’s landmark report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change further sounded the alarm that additional warming is inevitable. The report says world leaders must achieve “strong, rapid and sustained” reductions in carbon dioxide, the most abundant and damaging greenhouse gas. The report also documents that reducing methane is the best and fastest strategy for slowing global warming.

While both methane and carbon dioxide warm the atmosphere, the two greenhouse gases  do not behave in the environment in the same way. A single CO2 molecule causes less warming, but its impact lingers for hundreds of years and accumulates in the atmosphere. Methane is more potent, but short-lived, making it easier to address. Thus, reducing methane emissions is a critical climate mitigation strategy. As one of the report’s co-authors, Maisa Rojas Corradi, said, “Quickly reducing methane could counteract global warming, while also improving air quality.”

California policymakers undoubtedly will seize the U.N. report as an opportunity to talk tough on climate change, but will they seize the opportunity to actually do something to save the planet? As legislators negotiate spending on drought and climate change in the next weeks, they would be wise to follow the governor’s lead.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wisely included $60 million for the California Department of Food and Agriculture dairy methane reduction programs in his revised budget. Livestock are a significant source of methane in the state. We should be encouraging our leaders to double down on investments in these effective, short-term climate solutions.

Gov. Jerry Brown understood the importance of funding methane reduction, providing hundreds of millions of dollars for dairy and landfill methane mitigation during his time in office. It’s not rocket science, and the payoff is real. 

The dairy and landfill methane reduction programs are the most cost-effective and efficient under the California Climate Investment portfolio. And the California Department of Food and Agriculture dairy digester program is by far the best investment made by the state to date. Consider the following, as reported in the California Climate Investments annual report:

  • The Dairy Digester Research and Development Program is accomplishing more greenhouse gas reductions than any other investment, achieving 29% of total greenhouse gas reductions, while being allocated just 2.1% of the funds implemented to date.
  • At a cost of just $9 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent reduced, the digester program is the most cost-effective program.
  • The digester program will generate more than 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent reduction over the initial 10 years.

A recent analysis by the California Air Resources Board further establishes the need for more public funding for dairy methane reduction efforts. The dairy digester program is oversubscribed and out of funds. The state will only meet its existing 40% reduction target if that additional funding materializes. 

As a dairy farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, I’ve learned more about greenhouse gases and other air emissions than I could have ever imagined. Climate change affects everyone, especially those of us whose way of life relies on the weather. My family has made it a point to do what we can on our farm to reduce emissions — especially methane — and I see many of my fellow dairy farmers doing the same.

The bottom line: The science is clear that the planet is warming. The science is also clear that reducing methane is our best short-term hope for staving off catastrophic impacts. Our children, grandchildren and future generations are depending on it.

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