Climate fight targeting cows may reshape California dairies

Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Dairy farmer Bob Giacomini, 79, is ahead of his time, even if he didn’t mean to be.

Eight years ago, the North Bay native bought a custom motor, generator and pipeline to make electricity from an unusual source — cow manure — at his ranch along Tomales Bay. The hope was that the renewable energy would save him a few bucks and perhaps bolster the environmental bona fides of his family’s famed cheese, Point Reyes Original Blue.

As it turned out, the power system served another purpose. It helped do away with the potent greenhouse gas that’s at the heart of a new, first-of-its-kind climate law targeting agriculture.

Legislation signed this month by Gov. Jerry Brown requires California’s dairy industry to answer for its contribution to global warming by making a 40 percent cut in methane emissions in coming years. The gas, which heats the atmosphere 20 times faster than carbon dioxide, comes from the butts and burps of bovines.

One U.N. report blames livestock, which has largely escaped climate regulation, for 14.5 percent of the planet’s heat-trapping gases, as much as planes, trains and automobiles combined.

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