Harris Ranch

I’ve been hesitating to write this post as it is only somewhat related to electric cars.  But if your concerned about the environment, please continue to read.

I have been troubled with the location of the Tesla superchargers at Harris Ranch.  For me it feels inconsistent with the environmental goals of many of its customers.  I am simply not comfortable with factory farming from both an environmental and animal welfare perspective.

Photo courtesy of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project

Courtesy of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project

Harris Ranch for many Californians is the symbol of factory farming.  Anyone with a nose does not miss the factory farm along I-5.  This feedlot is California’s largest beef producer and the largest ranch on the west coast.  In fact the conditions of the ranch inspired Michael Pollan to research and eventually write his book, The Ominivore’s Dilemma.

Ironically or perhaps because of the size, their menu does include a Portabella burger, a vegetarian chili, and a few dinner salad choices.  And in fact, most of the eating establishments along Interstate 5 are participating in the same processes but the connection is at least one step removed.

I have been a vegetarian for the last two years.  During the fifteen years before that point, I transitioned from a regular omnivore to first eliminating veal, then beef, then non-organic foods or non-pasture raised animals.  I also had an exception that if I was far from home, I would eat whatever was available, or if I was dining at a friend’s home.   Then I eliminated non-sustainably caught seafood and mainly ate either buffalo from a free range place in North Dakota or free range chicken.  In the end it got all too complicated to try to treat both the animals and the environment well.  I felt that every meal was a bit complicated and I became a vegetarian.  One of the best decisions I ever made.

I lump our impact on the environment into three bundles:  transportation (flying and driving), eating habits, and then a lot of indirect polluters.  From data I have gathered over the years, these three are about equal carbon producers.  With the electric cars I have owned now for four years that are powered exclusively by solar I have largely stopped polluting through personal transportation.  I typically fly twice a year and do own a ICE vehicle, which is a hybrid with reasonable mileage.

The third bundle is the difficult one to quantify.  Everything we buy gets shipped to us and was produced in some manner.  I try to reduce unnecessary consumption, try to buy locally produced products,  and choose green and organic products where possible.

The huge impact humans make that is somewhat underreported is the impact on eating animals.  The data I am quoting is from Scientific American.  Red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10-40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions than common vegetables and grains.    The animals are fed corn, soybean meal and other grains typically using fertilizer, fuel and pesticides.  The growing of their feed and generates a lot of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, and the cows themselves produce methane.

What does this post have to do with Tesla?  I am assuming that a healthy percentage of other owners are also very sensitive about the environment, and some of those are also vegetarians or sustainable eaters.  I hope Tesla chooses supercharger locations in places where folks like myself can find sustainable, organic and vegetarian fare.

In regards to the location of the superchargers, they are very easy to locate as they are in the corner closest to the intersection off of I-5.  There are four traditional superchargers, and two with the charging stations in the front, where an ICE car is allowed to park for 45 minutes.  Two brand new Model Ss were there when I arrived, likely driving home from the factory in Fremont.

Harris Ranch Superchargers

Harris Ranch Superchargers

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4 thoughts on “Harris Ranch

  1. Hi there,

    I am glad that you took the time to write your post and applaud you for your concern for the environment. Like you, I adore these Tesla cars and hope that many other car manufacturers follow this green technology.

    I am replying to you because I am an expert on the impact livestock has one the environment (Professor at UC Davis in agricultural air quality and chairman of the global UN FAO partnership project on environmental benchmarking of global livestock; http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/livestock-benchmarking/en/). Your post contains some general misconceptions about beef feedlots and I feel it’s time to clear the air. Allow me to provide some background: cattle mainly produce greenhouse gases through two means: 1) belching of methane, and 2) methane and nitrous oxide from manure storage and land application. The microbes making the methane, so called methanogens, are microbes located in the 50 gal rumen of the steer/heifer. These methanogens require fiber (aka roughage) to strife and that can be found in great abundance on pastures. Grazing ruminant animals (i.e. cattle, buffalo, sheep etc.) will always belch methane in substantial amounts but on the upside, are the only means to utilize vast grazing lands for human nutrition. The cattle you see when driving by Harris Ranch are only fed a very small portion of roughage (10%) and this is why they produce minimal enteric methane. In contrast to grass fed cattle that live 25-30 month before they go to harvest, feedlot finished steers and heifers reach this same endpoint in almost half the time (14-17 month of age), thus producing much less manure and enteric gases when producing a given amount of meat. Manure from feedlots is scraped from the corral floors and is land applied as fertilizer at times when crops require nutrients at agronomic rates. This production model therefore allows the application of animal manure nutrients to crops thus avoiding excessive use of chemical fertilizers and minimizing leaching of nitrate into the groundwater. When my lab recently published a comparison of cattle systems, we found that feedlot cattle have a significantly lower carbon footprint than pasture finished cattle, even when considering the entire life cycle input. By sustainably intensifying cattle production, we can satisfy what the consumers desire with as few animals as necessary and by doing so, we can minimize the environmental footprint of cattle production.

    You mention that transportation and eating have approximately the same carbon footprints. This is not accurate (http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/meat_vs_miles.php?page=all). According to the latest EPA inventories, electricity production and use in the US make up 31%, the transportation sector 26%, and all of agriculture approx. 6% of our society’s carbon footprints. Approximately half of the 6% agricultural contribution to the nation’s carbon footprint is allocated to livestock, namely 3.4% of the total. These EPA figures have been confirmed by work published by my laboratory.

    I have visited hundreds of farms, ranches, and feedlots (including HR) during my academic career and I study the impact they have. Harris is the only one I have seen that runs their entire truck fleet with super clean natural gas powered vehicles. Harris pays as great deal of attention to alternative approaches to feeding cattle, running the feedlot, conducting their restaurant business, as well as providing services to travelers and I believe HR deserves to be recognized for moving away from the usual businesses that are oblivious to our societal challenges that affect us all.

    I have got to tell you that I understand where the confusion regarding livestock’s impact on the environment comes from because this is what the public is led to believe by very vocal but often uninformed sources. However, your displeasure about Harris offering vegetarian choices is beyond my comprehension as is your opposition to them offering fuel for alternative vehicles. Tesla considers the HR charge stations as some of their favorites in California and I am very pleased that Harris Ranch not only allows for choices on their menu (omnivore vs vegie) but also at their gas station. I am really glad that companies like Harris enable both folks like you and me to follow our believes and preferences and produce food in ways that are environmentally efficient, safe and at the same time facilitates choices for fueling our vehicles.

    Regards,
    Frank Mitloehner

    • Thank you for your comment.

      My 33% / 33% / 33% of the source of greenhouse gases was perhaps was too generalized of a statement. I found some more updated data on the EPA web site where they list pure agriculture as 8% but also consider agriculture in fuel and waste categories also.

      http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html

      The amount of greenhouse gases from animals is not simply how much methane they belch out or through manure – it is also the amount of land they need to roam and to produce the massive amount food for the cows themselves.  This land usage for the support of the cattle has caused deforestation throughout the world and accelerating increases in volatilization of soil carbon.  Much less land would be needed throughout the world for agriculture if everyone was a vegetarian or a vegan or simply ate a lot less meat. Also the simple fact of shipping the cows from pasture lands to feedlots and to the end consumer creates pollution.

      I did not also mention the effect of factory farming on antibiotic resistance, or the inhumanity of packing in so many animals in such a smelly inhospitable environment.

      I did mention that Harris offers vegetarian choices.  One vegetarian lunch entree, vegetarian chili and some dinner salads do not make a vegetarian friendly menu.

      I have never heard anyone say that the Harris Ranch charge stations are one of their favorites. I have spoken to Tesla employees 1:1 about the odd circumstances of having the superchargers at Harris Ranch and they were also a bit befuddled.

      Do you have any financial affiliations with the meat industry that you would like to disclose?

      • Your 33/33/33% statement was an intentional exaggeration to over-emphasize the contributions of livestock and de-emphasize those of transportation —these statements are typical in the vegetarian/vegan arena and most often remain uncontested. Again, official EPA emission inventories (based on LCA) show that livestock contributes to 3.4% and transportation to 26% of US GHG emissions. The 8% that you are quoting is not for livestock but all of agriculture (crops and animals). My earlier comments were not limited to direct emissions only but to the entire life cycle of GHG, which of cause include land use change, feed crop production etc. Sustainable intensification in agriculture is and will be the only way forward to globally feed 9 B people by 2050.
        Because of the anonymity of your post, you can claim that you have talked to Tesla employees who are critical of the HR location but if this were the case, you would identify yourself. The HR station is one of their favorites and if you decide to come out of your anonymity, we can contact the company and find out what their opinion is. Of course we would place that response on our discussion thread. Deal?

      • First, you never answered my last question

        Do you have any financial affiliations with the meat industry that you would like to disclose?

        I do not own any Tesla stock, hold no corporate affiliations, and I am not a member of any animal rights groups.

        My first statement was not an intentional exaggeration but commonly quoted facts in the media that perhaps are not completely accurate and I corrected them in my follow up comment. My blog is about electric cars and transportation so you are incorrect in stating my “intentional exaggeration to over-emphasize the contributions of livestock and de-emphasize those of transportation”. Please read the other 100+ blog posts where food is never mentioned.

        We will only be able to feed people globally if we eat less meat, and less food in general in western countries.

        I feel my original post was very thoughtful and did not criticize Harris Ranch anymore than 90% of all the other restaurants in the US, so the hostility is unwarranted.

        Tesla is not a person, unless you consider the recent supreme court ruling, so I doubt they would ever have a “favorite” supercharger station.

        I am not happy with the aggressive tones of your comments, and will end the discussion here as I do not feel it would be productive.

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