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Modeling food and agriculture in En-ROADS

I'm looking forward to using En-ROADS in a variety of scenarios and organizations. Many of my of the NGOs and companies I work with are focused on food and agriculture, so I'd like to be able to better understand the land use and methane components of the model.

Have you developed a scenario using the methane and land use parameters? How did you account for changes in ruminant enteric methane, projected deforestation rates, or other impacts of meat reduction?

The Climate Interactive blog post is a good start, but it would be great to stay connected and share more detailed information with my fellow facilitators:

Isaac - Great question. 

We're actively working on building the food system into En-ROADS more directly.  The blog post you linked to is our effort to connect the current version of En-ROADS to the food system and nature-based solutions conversations.

In the future, hopefully by the end of 2020, we'll have more specific sliders like 'diets', 'agroforestry', and other policies being discussed.

What policies are interested examining?  Why those policies?  What potential impacts are you seeing in your research or from your NGOs/companies?

Hi Travis,

Diet is the big one - many of the NGOs I work with (HSUS' Forward Food program, Center for Biological Diversity's Take Extinction Off Your Plate campaign, and others) are interested in science-based communications tools and workshops to show the climate impact of meat reduction. I think En-ROADS could play a helpful role there.

But I also work with groups on new technologies like cell-based meat (a.k.a. clean meat or cultivated meat), where animal meat is grown through cell culture instead of by farming whole animals. This in particular would make an interesting case for En-ROADS, because it would dramatically shift the role that land and energy play in food production. Cell cultures could be grown more efficiently from more land-efficient calorie sources or perennial crops with higher carbon storage potential. Energy demand might increase, but with a shift toward electricity that could be more easily decarbonized. (I'm holding a workshop on these topics in San Francisco later this month:

I'm excited to work with anyone else who is interested in modeling some of these scenarios.

So we're definitely going to take a crack at adding diets.

The life-cycle studies I've seen about cell-based meats and other non-meat production appear to be all over the place, on water use, land use, and energy use.  Do you want to post what you think the best peer- reviewed articles are here?  could be a good resource for others too.


Also, Charles Jones (CI modeler) weighed in on some of your other questions about the food system blog post, saying:

"Energy demand is not broken down to that detail in En-ROADS, but it is flexible enough to try different things. For the numbers in the Table 1 you cite, I used the energy savings estimates in an FAO Report ( ) and identified the setting on the Transport Efficiency slider that resulted in the same amount of energy consumption reduction. I picked transport efficiency because that is the sider that closest approximates a demand reduction like changes in the food system would. If you wanted to approximate your own numbers, look at a graph that shows a value you think should change - I'd recommend "Final Energy Consumption" for "energy used in the food system". Then adjust the demand sector - some of transport and some of buildings and industry - until you see the reduction you'd expect. Note the graphs are in exajoules = 10^9 gigajoules so you would have to convert the units. But this will give you a way to test mental models of climate impact of whatever energy reductions you envision."

Travis, thanks to you & Charles for that helpful modeling tip.

Regarding cell-based meat, you're right - there aren't many environmental assessments (LCAs) out there at the moment, and they come to dramatically different conclusions on energy and resource use. That reflects their speculative nature. Without any operating facilities even at the pilot scale, it's been a challenge for academics to estimate the likely impact of the technology. I and others have written some reviews to help interpret the existing studies. Here are some of the key resources:

  1. Tuomisto et al. 2014 LCA:
  2. Mattick et al. 2015 LCA:
  3. Technical comparison of the leading LCAs:
  4. Fact sheet on environmental impacts for a non-expert audience:
I'll be revisiting this topic over the next few weeks, so I'll have more input by April. I'm also aware of at least one ongoing LCA project that should be released later this year. I'm hopeful that one will answer many of our basic questions about the structure of the industry.

If anyone on your team would like some guidance, I'm happy to have a phone call to talk about the major issues in land and energy use for cell-based meat.

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