Tag Archives: Environment

Why We Should Embrace Synthetic Meat (As Soon As Possible)

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If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you drank milk at some point this year. You probably drank a lot more of it when you were a kid. The fact that you’re reading this proves that you didn’t die, as a result. That may not seem like a big deal, but compared to 100 years ago, it counts as a noteworthy feat.

Between 1850 and 1950, approximately a half-million infants died due to diseases contracted by drinking milk. If you do the math, that’s about 5,000 deaths a year, just from drinking milk. Keep in mind, these are children. That’s a lot of death and suffering for drinking one of the most basic substances the animal kingdom.

These days, death by drinking milk is exceedingly rare. Thanks to processes like pasteurization, milk is one of the safest substances you can drink. If anyone does get sick, it’s usually from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk. However, it’s so rare that most people don’t think about it. It’s just a normal part of how we manage our food and nourish ourselves.

I bring up milk because it nicely demonstrates what happens when we apply technology to improve the quality, safety, and abundance of our food. Despite what certain misguided critics may say, many of which probably haven’t experienced extreme starvation, this has been an objective good for humanity, civilization, and the world, as a whole.

Modern medicine and the Green Revolution, championed by the likes of Norman Borlaug, helped give us more efficient ways of producing massive quantities of food. Now, there’s another technological advancement brewing that might end up being more impactful. You’ve probably seen commercials for it already. It has many names, but for now, I’m just going to call it synthetic meat.

It’s almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of producing meat through artificial processes, none of which involve the slaughtering of animals. For those concerned about animal welfare and environmental impacts, it’s the ultimate solution. At most, the animals contribute a few cells. The rest is grown in a laboratory. Nobody has to get hurt. Nobody has to go vegan, either.

It seems too good to be true and there are certainly aspects of synthetic meats that are overhyped. However, unlike other advancements like Neuralink or nanobots, this is already an evolving market. The first synthetic burger was made and consumed in 2013. It was the culmination of a long, laborious effort that cost upwards of $300,000.

Those costs soon came down and they came down considerably. By 2017, the cost of that same meat patty was around $11. People have paid much more for expensive caviar. That’s impressive progress for something that’s still a maturing technology with many unresolved challenges. With major fast food companies getting in on the game, the technology is likely to progress even more.

It’s here where I want to make an important point about this technology. Regardless of how you feel about it or why it’s being developed, there’s one aspect to it that’s worth belaboring.

We should embrace synthetic meat.

In fact, we should embrace this technology faster than others because the benefits of doing so will only compound.

I say this as someone who has tried an impossible meat burger. It’s not terrible. I wouldn’t mind eating them regularly if they were the only option available. That said, you can still tell it’s not traditional beef. That’s because this meat isn’t exactly the kind of cultured meat that’s grown in a lab. It’s assembled from plant proteins and various other well-known substances.

Ideally, synthetic meat wouldn’t just be indistinguishable from traditional beef. It would actually be safer than anything you could get naturally. Meat grown in a lab under controlled conditions can ensure it’s free of food-born illnesses, which are still a problem with meat production. It can also more effectively remove harmful byproducts, like trans fats.

In theory, it might also be possible to produce meat with more nutrients. Imagine a burger that’s as healthy as a bowl of kale. Picture a T-bone steak that has the same amount of nutrients as a plate of fresh vegetables. That’s not possible to do through natural means, but in a lab where the meat is cultured at the cellular level, it’s simply a matter of chemistry and palatability.

Meat like that wouldn’t just be good for our collective health. It would be good for both the environment and the economy, two issues that are rarely aligned. Even if you don’t care at all about animal welfare, synthetic meats has the potential to produce more product with less resources. On a planet of over 7.6 billion, that’s not just beneficial. It’s critical.

At the moment, approximately 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is dedicated to the meat production. In terms of raw energy requirements, meat requires considerably more energy than plants. That includes water consumption, as well. Making meat in its current form requires a lot of resources and with a growing population, the math is working against us.

Say what you want about vegetarians and vegans when they rant about the meat industry. From a math and resources standpoint, they have a point. However, getting rid of meat altogether just isn’t feasible. It tastes too good and it has too many benefits. We can’t make people hate the taste of burgers, but we can improve the processes on how those burgers are made.

Instead of industrial farms where animals are raised in cramped quarters, pumped full of hormones, and raised to be slaughtered, we could have factories that produce only the best quality meat from the best animal cells. It wouldn’t require vast fields or huge quantities of feed. It would just need electricity, cells, and the assorted cellular nutrients.

Perhaps 3D printing advances to a point where specific cuts of meat could be produced the same way we produce specific parts for a car. Aside from producing meat without having to care for than slaughter animals, such a system would be able to increase the overall supply with a smaller overall footprint.

Needing less land to produce meat means more land for environmental preservation or economic development. Farming, both for crops and for meat, is a major contributor to deforestation. Being able to do more with less helps improve how we utilize resources, in general. Even greedy corporations, of which the food industry has plenty, will improve their margins by utilizing this technology.

Increased supply also means cheaper prices and if the taste is indistinguishable from traditional meat, then most people are going to go with it, regardless of how they feel about it. There will still be a market for traditional, farm-raised meats from animals, just as there’s a market for non-GMO foods. However, as we saw with the Green Revolution in the early 20th century, economics tends to win out in the long run.

It’s a promising future for many reasons. There are many more I could list relating to helping the environment, combating starvation, and improving nutrition. Alone, they’re all valid reasons to embrace this technology and seek greater improvements. If I had to pick only one, though, it’s this.

If we don’t develop this technology, then these delicious meats that we love could be exceedingly scarce or prohibitively expensive in the future.

Like I said earlier, the way we currently produce meat is grossly inefficient. At some point, the demand for meat is going to exceed the current system’s capacity to produce it in an economical way. At that point, this delicious food that we take for granted might not be so readily available and the substitutes might not be nearly as appetizing.

The issue becomes even more pressing if we wish to become a space-faring civilization, which will be necessary at some point. If we still want to enjoy burgers, chicken wings, and bacon at that point, we’ll need to know how to make it without the vast fields and facilities we currently use. Otherwise, we might be stuck dining on potatoes like Matt Damon in “The Martian.”

While the situation isn’t currently that urgent, this is one instance where a new technology is the extra push. You don’t have to be a major investor in companies like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. Just go out of your way to try one of these new synthetic meat products. Let the market know that there’s demand for it and the machinations of capitalism will do the rest.

I understand that our inner Ron Swanson will always have a craving for old fashioned burgers, steaks, and bacon. Those things don’t have to go away completely, just as traditional farming hasn’t gone away completely. However, when a particular technology already exists and has so many potential benefits, it’s worth pursuing with extra vigor.

The planet will benefit.

The people will benefit.

The animals will benefit.

Our society, as a whole, will benefit.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, Current Events, Environment, futurism, health, technology

Why I Believe In Climate Change, But Doubt Environmentalists

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There aren’t a lot of hot button issues that genuinely affect everyone. The environment is one of those issues. We all live in it. We’re all impacted by it. Whenever it changes significantly, we all feel it. That’s why, regardless of your politics or personal leanings, we should take environmental issues seriously.

Given that preface, I’d like to make my own sentiments clear. The environment, like other sensitive topics I’ve discussed, is prone to all sorts of secondary agendas. Some who claim to take environmental issues seriously often do so because it serves their interest in other, often indirect ways. In the interest of transparency, this is where I stand on the environment.

I do believe that climate change is real, human activity is contributing to it, and we should pursue policies to improve the environment and promote cleaner industry.

However, I don’t entirely trust the rhetoric, sincerity, and positions of those who identify as environmentalists.

I know that sounds like someone trying to have their cake and eat it too, but there is a context here. It’s one that I’ve developed over a number of years, some of which I’ve been on the side hardcore environmentalists. As I’ve gotten older, however, I see more and more complications with this issue and not just in terms of the absurd conspiracy theories it attracts.

While I know this will put me at odds certain parts of the political spectrum, I generally accept that the existing science surrounding climate change. The Earth is getting warmer and human activity is a major cause. There have been real, tangible impacts attributed to climate change and I believe those links are real.

The point where I often deviate from environmentalists is when issues of feasible solutions emerge. I’m happy to support efforts that raise awareness and educates the public on the existential dangers of climate change. However, just sounding the alarm is only half the battle. The other half involves doing something about it and this is where environmentalists have a problem.

It’s not that they outright avoid talking about solutions, which sets them apart from other agenda-driven politics. Some of their solutions do have merit and some are even making headway into the economy. However, there’s an over-arching theme of those solutions that leads me to question just how much the environment actually matters to certain environmentalists.

Talk to any self-identified environmentalist and, usually after they’re done talking about melted ice caps and dying polar bears, they’ll single out greedy corporations as the enemy. They tend to lump oil companies, coal producers, and any corporation that doesn’t sound eco-friendly as part of some international consortium of billionaires intent on maintaining their pollution-loving ways for the sake of profit.

Now, I don’t like defending big corporations, especially when their track record in protecting the environment has plenty of room for improvement. At the same time, I have a hard time believing that the solution to such an enormous problem involves battling big, industrial polluters as though it were an episode of “Captain Planet.”

As much as I love cheesy cartoons in the 1990s, the problems of the real world are far more complicated. Environmentalists, like many other vocal politically-driven groups, try to simplify the issue. Through their protests and the rhetoric surrounding it, they give the impression that to save the world, they need only defeat the evil polluters.

This is where I don’t just question the veracity of environmentalists. I genuinely doubt that the environment is their primary concern. If it were, then protesting polluters would only be a small part of their efforts. If they’re serious about making the world cleaner and more efficient, they would dedicate more time and energy into improving clean energy technology, which itself is prone to corporate greed.

This disconnect is most apparent whenever the topic of nuclear power comes up. Unlike other green energy technologies, nuclear energy is a mature technology that has been providing energy for decades. Compared to other forms of energy, it has very low emissions, but provides abundant energy, regardless of whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

Despite those benefits, the same environmentalists who favor shutting down coal power plants won’t support the construction or further refinement of nuclear power planets. They’ll even outright oppose it and for reasons every bit as irrational as those championed by climate change deniers.

While there are legitimate disadvantages to utilizing nuclear power, I rarely hear environmentalists promote efforts to mitigate those issues. They won’t champion the development of advanced nuclear power, including versions that produce far less waste and are less prone to meltdowns. Many won’t even concede it as an option.

This is akin to anti-abortion advocates who support making abortion illegal in all cases, but also oppose contraception, despite the fact it significantly reduces abortions. It also parallels other environmentalists who protest the usage of genetically modified foods, but overlook the distressing fact that billions would starve without this technology.

It’s not just a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. It’s environmentalists favoring a particular narrative over actual solutions to the problems they protest. As I’ve noted before, people like to believe that they’re the heroes of their own story. When they take a particular position, they see themselves as the underdogs in an epic struggle against good and evil.

While that makes for great superhero comics and Tolkien novels, it rarely aligns with reality. Environmentalists think they’re protesting a greedy corporation run by an army of Lex Luthors who enjoy bathing in the tears of starving orphans, but the truth is more complicated and more mundane.

A key part of that truth that environmentalists tend to overlook is the fact that, no matter how greedy or evil a corporation may be, they have a vested interest in the world remaining intact. Corporations, be they greedy or virtuous, are driven to make profits. They can’t make profits, nor enjoy the fruits of their wealth, in a world where the planet is a toxic wasteland.

That’s why even oil companies, the boogeyman of many environmentalists, are actively researching more environmentally friendly products. It’s also why oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, which has harmed the environment in ways beyond pollution, is also investing in a post-oil economy.

It’s very likely that the advances in green energy that will improve the environment won’t come from some dedicated environmentalist who protests outside of coal plants. Chances are it will be some greedy, profit-seeking business person trying to make money in a world where the demand for energy is rapidly increasing.

Beyond just generating energy, those same greedy billionaires have just as much incentive to create clean, lush landscapes that attract other billionaires and customers. In general, people don’t like being in polluted communities. Aside from the illness and misery it generates, it also means there are fewer people buying goods and producing for the economy. Even the most devious billionaire is hurt by that.

The incentives for improving the environment are already there. That’s not to say there aren’t some who are truly malicious in how they treat the environment, but in terms of an investment that helps greedy people get richer, it’s one of the worst investments anyone can make and not just because of the bad PR it generates.

Environmentalists will gladly single out those exceedingly malicious corporations, but ignore the bigger picture. They, ironically, don’t see the forest from the trees when it comes to action that genuinely improves the environment. They cling to that epic war raging in their minds of them battling evil corporations that are out to destroy the planet, as though that would somehow benefit any business.

I get the appeal of wanting to feel like a hero in an epic struggle. My love of superhero comics should be proof enough of that. However, when that same struggle both ignores and undermines real solutions that could alleviate a serious issue, then it’s hard to take environmentalist rhetoric seriously.

There’s having genuine concern for the environment and then there’s just being against greedy corporations. Those who are unable to discern between the two can call themselves a lot of things, but they certainly aren’t helping the environment.

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Filed under Environment, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, technology