Tag Archives: Climate Change

Article: “The Business of Burps: Scientists Smell Profit in Cow Emissions”

Cattle produce more methane than many large countries. A solution could be an ecological and financial breakthrough–and a Swiss biotech company may be on the cusp.

By Adam Satariano May 1, 2020

LANCASTER, England— Peaches, a brown-and-white Jersey cow weighing 1,200 pounds, was amiably following Edward Towers through a barn on a sunny March morning when the 6-year-old dug in her front hooves.

Mr. Towers, a 28-year-old farmer whose family owns Brades Farm, near Britain’s rugged Lake District, slapped Peaches gently to move her along. She didn’t budge. Already muddy from a morning herding hundreds of cows to a milking session, Mr. Towers leaned all his weight into Peaches’ ample backside, until she finally stepped through a metal gate that would hold her head still for an exam.

Deepashree Kand, a scientist studying animal nutrition, stepped forward with a device about the size of a grocery-store scanner. As David Bowie’s “Changes” played on the radio, Ms. Kand pointed a green laser at the cow’s nostril and waited for Peaches to belch.

Ms. Kand’s employer, a Swiss company called Mootral, is studying whether an altered diet can make cattle burp and fart less methane–one of the most harmful greenhouse gases and a major contributor to climate change. If they were a country, cows would rank as the world’s sixth-largest emitter, ahead of Brazil, Japan and Germany, according to data compiled by Rhodium, a research firm.

It is a well-known problem that has had few promising solutions. But in the last five years, a collection of companies and scientists has been getting closer to what would be an ecological and financial breakthrough: an edible product that would change cows’ digestive chemistry and reduce their emission of methane.

Several companies are pursuing a seaweed-based compound, and a Dutch firm, DSM, is testing a chemical supplement with promising results. Mootral is one of the furthest along. By mixing compounds from garlic, citrus and other additives into a pellet that’s mixed with a cow’s regular diet, the start-up has surprised scientists by significantly and consistently cutting the toxic output of animals like Peaches.

At Brades Farm, Ms. Kand kept her laser steady. Changes in the light beam would measure the methane in Peaches’ burps, which she produced about once every four minutes. Soon, there was a subtle flex in the cow’s neck, and Ms. Kand’s device put out a few readings: 32 to 38 parts per million.

“That’s good,” Ms. Kand said. “A reduction of about 30 percent.”

The drop was consistent with the findings of several peer-reviewed studies of Mootral’s food supplement. Additional trials are underway in the United States and Europe. The product is being tested at dairy and meat farms, including a Dutch farm used by McDonald’s for studying new techniques in its supply chain. The venture capitalist Chris Sacca, who became a billionaire with early bets on Uber and Twitter, has invested.

Many questions of viability remain. Mootral must prove that its product works on different breeds of cows and in different climates. It has had success in areas with mild weather, like Northern Europe, but is now conducting experiments in hotter locations.

Most urgent, the company must find its place in the coronavirus economy. An investment round that was scheduled to close in March fell apart because of the crisis. The start-up’s business model depends on convincing typically conservative livestock and dairy companies that they will receive credits they can sell in the unpredictable and largely unregulated carbon-offset market for using what is basically Gas-X for cows.

But if Mootral or one of its competitors can withstand the challenges of the coronavirus era and hold up at scale, the result could be one of the simplest and fastest ways to cut a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions.

“It is something, to be honest, that I never expected,” said Gerhard Breves, a longtime livestock researcher in Germany who performed one of the first independent tests of Mootral’s product and is now an unpaid member of its advisory board.

‘An existential threat’

Cows are a digestive miracle. Inside their stomach is an oxygen-free environment with a steady temperature, similar to the fermentation tanks used to make beer. Microbes decompose and ferment materials like cellulose, starch and sugars. Cows can eat just about anything–grass, hay, cornstalks, rapeseed–and turn it into energy for producing milk and meat.

“They could live on wood,” said Mootral’s director of science, Oliver Riede, a molecular biologist who started his career studying vaccines and infection management.

But just as a midnight pizza can come with a gaseous cost, a cow’s digestive system has a way of retaliating. Methane is a main byproduct of the enzymes that help break down the food. The gas can’t be turned into energy, so as it builds up, a cow must burp, sending little puffs of pollution into the atmosphere. (A small amount is released by farting.) Up to 12 percent of a cow’s energy intake from food is lost this way.

There are about 1.4 billion cattle globally, each emitting the equivalent of 1.5 to 2.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, roughly half the output of an average American car.

As awareness of cattle’s environmental impact has reached the mainstream, thanks to compelling media campaigns by environmentalists and Netflix documentaries, the meat and dairy industries have felt the effects. Sales of alternative milks and meat substitutes have soared. Vegetarianism and veganism have spread.

“This is an existential threat,” said Joe Towers, Edard Towers’s older brother, who also works at Brades Farm. “Farmers are keen to improve and show they aren’t the bad guys.”

‘Want to smell it? It smells like fart’

Mootral’s main research lab is at the base of a lush valley, in a former mining region of Wales. The company’s work on cows dates to 2010, when a group of researchers participated in a European Union research effort to explore ways to reduce methane from cattle.

The team, working for a company called Neem Biotech, had studied garlic’s antimicrobial properties in humans. In lab trials, the scientists found that it also reduced methane in cows thanks to allicin, the same strong-smelling compound that’s produced when a garlic clove is cut with a knife. But the company was small and didn’t see a business case for the finding, so the work didn’t go any further.

In 2012, Neem was sold to a life sciences company, Zaluvida, that developed over-the-counter diet and allergy supplements. One product, derived from compounds found in prickly pears, gave people the sensation of feeling full. Another helped with digestion.

Zaluvida’s founder, Thomas Hafner, bought Neem intending to work on drugs for people, but during a review of past research, a colleague found the methane work in a computer file named “Mootral.” It explained how allicin interacted with microbes inside a cow’s stomach.

After becoming rich by manipulating the human digestive tract–he sold the supplements business for about $150 million in 2014–Mr. Hafner saw an opportunity in doing the same with cows. By 2016, he put a team of scientists to work testing different combinations of garlic extracts.

The challenge, they learned, was finding the right balance between delivering the maximum amount of allicin without triggering adverse effects. The chemical targets enzymes in the cow’s gut that create methane. Too much could harm the cow’s ability to process food, or give the milk and meat a garlic flavor.

“The first thing a farmer will ask is, ‘What will this do to my animal?'” said Mr. Riede, the Mootral science director.

Allicin is volatile, and the team struggled at first to come up with a consistent blend that would work across members of a herd of cattle. In the lab, researchers used bacteria from the stomachs of sheep–members, like cows, of the ruminant family–to see how certain combinations would change methane levels.

Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, Too

Isolation and other shifts in behavior during the coronavirus outbreak could also alter our greenhouse gas emissions. But will the changes stick?

By John Schwartz March 13, 2020

As the nation shifts abruptly into the fight against coronavirus, a question arises: could social isolation help reduce an individual’s production of greenhouse gases and end up having unexpected consequences for climate change?

The biggest sources of carbon emissions caused by our lifestyles come from three activities, said Kimberly Nicholas, a researcher at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies in Sweden: “Any time you can avoid getting on a plane, getting in a car or eating animal products, that’s a substantial climate savings.” Many people trying to avoid the coronavirus are already two-thirds of the way there.

Christopher M. Jones, lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the U.C. Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said that “all these extra precautions that schools and businesses are taking to keep people home are saving lives, and that’s clearly what’s most important.” Having said that, he added that many of the actions people are taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak could have a benefit of reduced carbon footprint–though others would have little effect or could even expand it.

Here are four areas we may see changes in greenhouse gas emissions because of the coronavirus.

My MAlt Spring Break: Intersections of Faith and Climate Action

I spent my February break this year a little differently. I went back to Los Angeles, the place I have been calling home for the past 11 years, with nine other Middleury students. At 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday our plane finally landed in LAX, and I felt our group’s collective excitement and eagerness to learn about the intersectionality between climate change and religion and what roles we can play in helping mitigate this global crisis.  Although it is true that our trip was not the most physically demanding–we may have gone to the beach this week more than I ever have in one summer–I believe that it was one of my most intellectually and emotionally engaging experiences at Middlebury College. 

MAlt LA 2020 Participants in Long Beach, California for the beach clean-up with Algalita Marine Research and Education, a non-profit organization. Participants from left to right: Chima Dimgba ’21, Julia McClaine ’22, Rachel Jeong ’22, Nhi Do ’22, Isabella Primavera 21.5, Soyibou Sylla ’20, Bo Liu ’23, Anna Cox ’21, Bayu Ahmad ’21, Huiming (Sam) Liang ’22.

On our first full day, we visited the Metropolitan Church of Christ, a church centered on Creation. The whole community welcomed all of us with open arms, reflecting the core of their sermon that day: we humans are “the salt of the earth.” They shared the message that humans are one of earth’s most valuable resources and we have a duty to be kind to each other. This kindness must also extend towards all of God’s creation. We have a duty to protect and nurture the earth and everything that resides in it because we are simply sharing the earth with other living beings. Theirs was a call for responsibility. Although this was a clear articulation of the connection between climate change in religion, the most powerful experience I had in this church was more personal.

A banner hangs outside the Metropolitan Church of Christ. The church’s members are known as the “Queer and Quirky of Cahuenga Street” as they practice love for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, and other social signifiers.

They did the Holy Communion a little differently from other more traditional churches. We were invited to join if we desired. I took the “body of Christ” with my own hands from a tray and dipped it in the chalice filled with the “blood of Christ.” After eating this, the deacon took my hands and touched our foreheads together in a very personal prayer. My eyes started to water as her words touched my heart. She said: “Blessed be are those who are young. For they really are the hope of the future.” At that moment, I realized that the older generation places so much faith in us to do better and to take better care of our shared world.

The most physically demanding–and emotionally exhausting–day that we had came on the third day of our trip. Half of the group, including myself, worked from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hippie Kitchen situated in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row. This neighborhood, called “Hell on Earth” by some, creates a stark contrast from the bustling and wealthy area of Downtown Los Angeles as you see streets upon streets filled with tents, shopping carts, trash, and items usually found inside a house. When you leave this neighborhood, you can immediately see a completely different set-up of the city: high-rise buildings, fancy restaurants, expensive apartments. As a native Los Angelena, I knew of and have seen this place in person–but only from the outside. Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge. I felt weird and I felt wrong.

Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge.

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

As we rotated jobs once the Hippie Kitchen opened, I found myself serving salad to those experiencing homelessness. At this station, I distinctly remember one moment: One of the regular volunteers asked a regular patron where his wife was. He answered: “She’s in our tent today since she’s not feeling well.” That response hit me hard. In my everyday life, the “tent” would be substituted by “home” or “room,” sturdier and more personal spaces, places that are supposed to provide a comfortable shield from the outside. Hearing this man’s response, I felt a sense of shame. It was shame for being able to find comfort in going back to a comfortable house–with a bed, a heater, running water, a warm blanket–while my counterparts lived in their tents.

A billboard in Downtown LA stating “Homeless Republic,” depicting the California flag’s bear as a man outside of his tent– his home.

Before we started our shifts, we came upon the volunteers praying in a circle, holding hands. When they saw us (Middlebury students standing outside the kitchen), they opened up the circle and invited us join the prayer. The prayer, I faintly recall, was a prayer by St. Vincent de Paul–a priest who has dedicated his life to serving the poor. The prayer talked of our duties to the poor–that it is our duty to help them and even when they disrespect us, we must treat them with more kindness. I deeply respect all of the volunteers; their belief in the word of God drives their selflessness in serving the community in Skid Row. I respect those experiencing homelessness as well. Despite their situations, some of them come to the Hippie Kitchen filled with hope and gratitude. It is another day that they are alive and another day that they can eat and for that they are thankful. 

A wall in the Hippie Kitchen says “Make Beans, Not War.” The Hippie Kitchen, whose official name is actually Lost Angeles Catholic Worker’s “Hospitality Kitchen,” makes food (including beans) three times a week for those who need it.

There is so much that we did on this trip–so much learning, engagement, reflection–that one blog post would not be enough to talk about all of it. I’ve highlighted these two days of the trip because they contained the most impactful moments for me. While the first experience shows the direct connection between climate change and religion I experienced, the second experience shows that solving the climate crisis cannot stand in isolation from creating broader social justice. Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter? This trip has made me realize that climate change is not just this abstract, global problem but a systemic problem–those who are not in the top 5% wealthiest parts of the population are the ones who experience most of climate change’s effects, but those with the most wealth are responsible for creating and maintaining most of the systems of dependence on, and actual emissions of, fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses that are causing the problem in the first place. The marginalized hold some of the fewest choices for taking personal action, too. People who need jobs must take the jobs available, even if they are in places like oil refineries. Those experiencing homelessness use single-use plastic because they don’t have access to sturdier containers. All of these complex problems are part of climate change.

 Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter?

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

Although these issues seem so big and unsolvable–believe me, I was feeling hopeless for a while–the communities that we have seen in action are all doing their part to try to fix the system from the ground-up. Faith communities as well as normal neighborhoods are all working with the people in their communities to tackle the climate crises–the Metropolitan Church of Christ and the Hippie Kitchen are just two of these examples. Because of these groups, I have hope that we can work together to change the world for the better. 

Future Leaders Climate Summit Opportunity 2020

Join fellow change-makers, experts and thought leaders in Chicago for three days of learning, networking and sharing experiences.

We welcome any future leader to apply for the Summit. Successful applicants will typically be between the ages of 18-30 years old with a demonstrated interest in climate change and leadership.

They are still accepting applications on a rolling basis. 

The inaugural Future Leaders’ Climate Summit will gather ~100 young and diverse leaders from around the US for three days to discuss climate policy, communications, advocacy, and individual action with climate and energy experts. The Future Leaders will work with these experts to develop ideas and recommendations for wicked problems facing their communities today, from mitigating climate change, to adapting to extreme weather impacts, to preparing for a rapidly changing world that likely will include more political unrest, forced migration, and security issues. The Future Leaders will form work pods to develop local action plans and make pledges to go back to their communities and engage with local elected officials, educate their community, and provoke action.

Apply HERE to attend the Future Leaders’ Climate Summit in Chicago from March 26-29, 2020. Thanks to recent Middlebury alum Kitty Pollack, Program Coordinator, Energy & Environment Program at The Aspen Institute for this lead!

Join DC Alumni Panelist Discuss the State of Climate Change Policy -11/4 @ 7PM

Location: Davis Library 105A

The Center for Careers and Internships and Middlebury in DC, in collaboration with the Middlebury Professional Network, are hosting Live From DC: The Fight to Stop Climate Change, a discussion among Middlebury and MIIS alumni on legislation, legal remedy, and remediation efforts.

The conversation will be broadcast from Middlebury’s office in DC to both the Middlebury and Monterey campuses (at Middlebury, screened in Davis Library Rooms 105A & 105B).

The alumni panelists include:
• Evan Freund ’99, Senior Director, World Wildlife Fund
• Tatsatom Goncalves ’19, Helms Fellow, World Resource Institute
• Keisuke Iyadomi ’04 MIIS, Climate Change Specialist, the World Bank
• Marna McDermott ’99, Deputy Director and Counsel, Conservation Litigation Project

go/livefromdc for more information.

RSVP in Handshake: https://middlebury.joinhandshake.com/events/379842

Climate and energy position at The Nature Conservancy VT—Super Febs & Recent grads Apply NOW

Do you want to be a part of a science-based, non-partisan, and solutions-oriented team that is striving to build a clean energy future where both people and nature thrive? Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time, and The Nature Conservancy in Vermont (TNC) is growing its conservation and policy staff with the addition of a Climate and Energy Policy Manager.  

The Climate and Energy Policy Manager will play an integral role in co-creating a thriving and resilient Vermont in the face of a changing landscape. S/he will lead efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emission and accelerate the transition to a clean energy future for TNC in Vermont and collaborate with TNC colleagues in other Northeastern states to advance the organization’s regional climate priorities. The ideal candidate will have political savvy, strong advocacy, communication, and organizational skills, a proven ability to work with and convene stakeholders with diverse perspectives, and experience building effective networks. Strong knowledge of climate and energy issues in Vermont and New England, as well as lobbying laws, regulations, and practice, is preferred. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global organization that has been working in Vermont for nearly 60 years to protect the land and waters on which all life depends. We value collaborative approaches, diverse backgrounds, and innovative thinking. For a complete description and to apply, visit www.nature.org/careers and search for Job #48001, or follow https://tinyurl.com/y45l8q7u. Posting closes 10/6/19.

Hot Handshake SOCIAL IMPACT Jobs & Internship Deadlines Week of 4/29-5/6

I’ve sorted through Handshake and including a link HERE to all the PAID internships, jobs and fellowships in SOCIAL IMPACT. THERE ARE LOTS OF PAID POSITIONS STILL OPEN ON HANDSHAKE! Below are just a few with deadlines this week:


Supply Planning Analyst, GHSC-PSM

Chemonics International2 Reviews

 Full-Time Job Arlington County, VA Apply today

Junior Research Fellow

Public International Law & Policy Group2 Reviews

 Full-Time Job Washington, DC Apply before Tuesday, 4/30

Day Habilitation Intern at Berkshire County Arc

Lever, Inc./Berkshire Business Interns1 Review

 Full-Time Internship Pittsfield, MA Apply before Tuesday, 4/30


Assistant Director, Digital Fundraising

The Innocence Project1 Review

 Full-Time Job New York City, NY Apply before Tuesday, 4/30

Graphic Design Summer l internship

GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders

 Part-Time Internship Boston, MA Apply before Tuesday, 4/30


Spills Program Enforcement Coordinator (Marine Transportation Safety Specialist 3)

Washington State Department of Ecology1 Review

 Full-Time Job Lacey, WA Apply before Tuesday, 4/30

Internship – ACE EPIC NPS GA: Jimmy Carter YCC Crew Lead

American Conservation Experience3 Reviews

 Full-Time Internship Plains, GA Apply before Tuesday, 4/30 All Employer Preferences Match

GlobalGiving Fellowship – Vetting and Grants Team

GlobalGiving Foundation Inc.

 Full-Time Fellowship Washington, DC Apply before Tuesday, 4/30

Service Coordinator

SOME (So Others Might Eat)

 Full-Time Job Washington, DC and 1 more Apply before Tuesday, 4/30

Internship-Research and Communications-Summer 2019

Arab-American Business and Professional Association

 Full-Time Internship McLean, VA Apply before Tuesday, 4/30

GRANT/BUDGET ANALYST

New York City Emergency Management

 Full-Time Job New York City, NY