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Category: Policy

Are we encouraging bad behavior?

Written By: Dave Rochlin | 1 comment | Join the Discussion

Methane capture from dairy or pig farms is a pretty popular form of carbon offset these days. They sound good in theory - help a family farm capture pollution that we would normally breathe, and combust the gasses for use as fuel. Does it help the environment to capture these gasses? Sure. Is it measurable? Absolutely. But is it a good use of your money? We don't think so. And here's why.

One problem lies in the name. A so-called ‘family farm’ of 600 cows has an annual revenue stream of $2.5MM per year, (USDA) and produces well over 1 Million gallons of milk, along with 25 Million pounds of manure. This is big business, and generates massive piles of waste with a huge environmental impact. Manure produces methane - a greenhouse gas far worse than the carbon dioxide coming out of the tailpipe of your automobile.

The good news is that dairy farms can capture the gas generated by manure (using 'digesters'), and convert it to relatively clean energy, which can power the farm. The excess energy can be also sold to the local power company for roughly $5000 /month.

Many farms would argue that this energy income is not a large enough return to justify the upfront expenditure of a digester system, (roughly $1MM for a 600 cow farm), despite the USDA’s willingness to chip in as much as half of the cost. Over five years, the cost to a dairy farmer of an emissions capture system would be $100,000/year, or roughly $.08/gallon of milk. Instead, they seek out carbon credits for taking care of the emissions problem created on their farms. My question is….who’s crap is it anyway?

Should you reward these businesses for cleaning up their mess, or simply require them to do it? If the true cost of milk includes a nickle of additional expense for farming sustainably, then let’s raise the price of milk and make all dairy farms do it. Unfortunately, every time you buy a dairy offset, you are sending a different message, a message that instead of realizing the environmental costs associated with a company's business practice, a company can ask the well-intentioned donor to shoulder it. That’s why ClimatePath does not offer these credits, nor credits from landfill projects that operate in the same way.

Like with all things, the way we spend sends signals to the market what we value. Insist on transparency, be an informed buyer, and support change you believe in.

Discuss This

  1. Ariel Rivers posted on 06.06.09

    I love this post. I hate milk, and I think it is weird for adults to drink it personally, BUT, I am a huge eater of cheese. With that said, I would be more than happy to purchase a goat to produce my own organic (and local) cheese to meet my demand, and thus limit any patronage of the "family farms" mentioned above. I think your last sentence is one of the most important in this entire post... being in an informed buyer is so essential today; e.g. purchasing locally produced inorganic milk with no carbon offsets is probably less environmentall efficient than producing milk from the next county that does meet all the requirements of a sustainable production system. In other words, I vote we require businesses to clean up their own mess, not reward them for doing it. There is only so much carbon that can be offset before the market is saturated. Take some responsibility, I say. Ariel Rivers www.arielrivers.com

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Discuss This

  1. Ariel Rivers posted on 06.06.09

    I love this post. I hate milk, and I think it is weird for adults to drink it personally, BUT, I am a huge eater of cheese. With that said, I would be more than happy to purchase a goat to produce my own organic (and local) cheese to meet my demand, and thus limit any patronage of the "family farms" mentioned above. I think your last sentence is one of the most important in this entire post... being in an informed buyer is so essential today; e.g. purchasing locally produced inorganic milk with no carbon offsets is probably less environmentall efficient than producing milk from the next county that does meet all the requirements of a sustainable production system. In other words, I vote we require businesses to clean up their own mess, not reward them for doing it. There is only so much carbon that can be offset before the market is saturated. Take some responsibility, I say. Ariel Rivers www.arielrivers.com

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