Planning for the Impossible

Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown discusses lofty goals in the face of climate catastrophe

A few weeks before stepping aside from his longstanding position as CEO, Impossible Foods founder and current CVO (that’s chief visionary officer, as it were) Pat Brown published a research paper co-authored with UC Berkeley professor of genetics and development Michael B. Eisen.

The document carried a decidedly unwieldy title: “Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this century.”

“Most people, when it comes to scientific papers, only read the title,” Brown noted during a panel at TC Sessions: Climate this week. As far as research papers go, this one does everything it says on the box.

The subject of animal agriculture — and its impact on biodiversity and climate — is a longstanding pet project for Brown. It’s one that significantly predates Impossible’s 2011 founding. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s this drive that prompted the company’s creation. More than a simple alternative meats company, Brown views Impossible as an important step along the way toward decreasing human dependence on animal agriculture.

“The historical reduction in terrestrial biomass as native ecosystems were transformed to support grazing livestock and the cultivation of feed and forage crops accounts for as much as a third of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions to date,” the paper notes. “Livestock, especially large ruminants, and their supply chains, also contribute significantly to anthropogenic emissions of the potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) methane and nitrous oxide.”

Brown ultimately sees biodiversity as an even more pressing concern than climate change (though, obviously, one can’t entirely uncouple one from the other in a conversation like this). Habit destruction is the primary contributor to the extinction and reduction of animals across the spectrum, and farming, in turn, is the single largest driver of that.

In an event packed to the gills with startups looking to take a bite out of climate change, it’s clear that no single solution is going to fix this mess — but anything that can help reduce human dependence on animal agriculture and all that entails will undoubtedly be a step in the right direction.

Brown believes Impossible’s approach to solving the problem is a “subversive” one. It’s a strange word choice for an 11-year-old company whose recent $500 million raise valued it at $7 billion.

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