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Bill Gates and Sergey Brin Take on the Impending Climate Change Apocalypse

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A study published earlier this month in the journal Nature indicates that by 2047, the average temperatures experienced by most people worldwide will be hotter than the hottest day in their history to 2005.

"Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced," lead researcher Dr. Camilo Mora told the New York Times. "What we're saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm."

Carnegie Institution for Science researcher Ken Caldeira explained, "If current trends in carbon dioxide emissions continue, we will be pushing most of the ecosystems of the world into climatic conditions that they have not experienced for many millions of years."

One area where we're seeing room for hope is with work from the Gates Foundation, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, who are bringing their skills and vision to the huge global warming problems with animal agriculture.

Just a few weeks ago, the latest report from the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), "Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock," confirmed that more global warming is caused by the meat industry than by all cars, planes, trains, and other forms of transport combined.

Meat clocked in at 14.5 percent of global warming gases globally, to transport's 13 percent.

Some, including World Bank and International Finance Corporation environmental scientists Robert Goodland and Jeffrey Anhang, backed by the WorldWatch Institute and Earth Island Institute, argue that the FAO's number is far too low. But even as a conservative number, it's shocking.

Meat's climate change impact makes intuitive sense: First, it's simply inefficient to grow crops and feed them to animals so that we can eat the animals. Most of those calories are burned off by the animals metabolically, so that we have to grow far more crops if we're feeding them to animals than if we're eating them directly.

Second, there are far more stages of production for meat than for plants, including: transporting the grain and soy to feed mills, operating the feed mills, trucking the feed to animal farms, operating the animal farms, trucking the animals to slaughter, operating the slaughterhouses, trucking the meat to processing plants, operating the processing plants, and so on.

Some of those stages are required for plant-based foods, of course (veggie burgers don't grow on trees), but meat requires multiple extra stages of production, with all the energy needs and pollution entailed in the additional transport and factories, even beyond the basic inefficiency of funneling crops through animals.

The FAO report tries to be positive, suggesting that through "collective, concerted and global action," we can reduce the amount of climate change caused by the global meat industry by 30 percent. The authors explain that such an effort will require cooperation from "all sector stakeholders (private and public sector, civil society, research and academia, and international organizations)."

Um, just how likely do you think that is?

Fortunately, though unlikely, it's also not necessary.

The November/December Mother Jones cover asks hopefully, "Will Silicon Valley Put Factory Farms Out of Business?" Inside, we read the story of venture capital backed endeavors to replace eggs with pea protein and to place a faux chicken in every pot, courtesy of Bill Gates, Biz Stone, and other forward-thinking titans of the tech industry.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Biz Stone, Evan Williams, and Bill Gates are investing in and promoting plant-based eggs and chicken, and that Google co-founder Sergey Brin is investing in and promoting cultured meat. MoJo explains that the "chicken" in which Gates has invested, for example, is 18 times more efficient at providing nutrition than eating actual birds. Brin's product, although further from the marketplace, is even more efficient.

In other words, switching from chicken to Beyond Meat's "chicken" will reduce caloric inefficiency by 94 percent; that's quite a bit better than the 30 percent we can achieve for the meat industry through the Herculean efforts suggested by the FAO report, and all it requires is a change in eating habits.

That explains why Gates, Stone, Williams, Brin, and a growing cadre of venture capitalists, especially those with an environmental and philanthropic bent, are getting behind these faux meats and eggs. If they can convince Americans to eat plant-based chicken instead of its feathery (and fleshy, and bloody) counterpart, the results could be transformative -- for both our diets and our planet.

Obviously, global climate change is a challenge to humanity greater than any in human history, and dealing with it is going to require the ingenuity of our world's greatest minds. It's not a problem that lends itself to small-scale thinking or small scale solutions.

But those of us who believe that the personal is political needn't wait for the Gates Foundation to solve the problem; we can begin to live in accordance with our environmental values today by leaving the most environmentally wasteful foods off our plates and replacing them with more efficient foods.

Thanks to forward-thinkers like Bill Gates and Biz Stone, that's just gotten a little bit easier and tastier.

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