Issue: Climate Change

With interest in climate change growing, nations are scrambling to figure out how to reduce heat-trapping “greenhouse gases,” which contribute to global warming.

The great majority of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from fossil fuel combustion. But how can industries reduce fossil fuel consumption while still meeting the demands of growing populations for energy, food, goods and services, all of which are largely dependent on fossil fuel?

In the global context, the U.S. dairy industry is a rare and major success story. Due to innovations in efficiency, dairy farmers have greatly increased milk production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The number of dairy cows in the U.S. has dropped from 25.6 million in 1944 to about 9.3 million today. Even with fewer cows, milk production actually increased during the same period by 59 percent. As a result, the overall “carbon footprint” of a glass of milk has shrunk by 63 percent in the past 65 years.

Although dairy’s share remains relatively small (about 2 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions), the nation’s dairy industry in 2009 set a goal to further reduce these emissions 25 percent by the year 2020. And in December 2009, the industry entered into an historic agreement with the Obama Administration — announced at the global climate change summit in Copenhagen — to work together to realize this ambitious goal.

California’s dairy community has also been a leader in developing new “digester” technologies that have the dual benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating renewable energy. Dairy digesters capture biogas from enclosed dairy manure containment ponds or tanks. Like natural gas, manure biogas can be combusted in engines to generate power or in furnaces, stoves and boilers to create heat.

There are already more than a dozen dairy digester projects in California, and the dairy community is working with government agency partners, the energy industry and entrepreneurs to bring more cost-effective, environmental friendly dairy digesters to our state. With continued effort and progress, California families can add clean, green, renewable energy to the list of products they produce for our nation