Plant-based and lab-grown meat substitutes aren’t likely to eliminate livestock agriculture’s climate and land use impacts anytime soon, says environmental scientist David Lobell.

Investors have poured billions of dollars into the meat alternatives sector to kickstart technologies that produce protein with ingredients such as peas, soybeans, mushrooms, and lab-grown animal cells. Regardless, policymakers would do well to focus on ways to dramatically reduce emissions of animal-based systems, says Lobell, director of Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment and professor of earth system science in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

Lobell teaches a popular undergraduate course called “Re-Thinking Meat,” which assesses alternative protein sources and strategies for feeding a growing global population.

Here, Lobell discusses opportunities for shrinking agriculture’s environmental impacts, his hope for better-tasting cheese alternatives, and more:

What gets lost in dominant narratives about alternative protein?

It’s great to see all the investment in this space and all the good intentions. But as with a lot of venture capital, sometimes the narrative can get carried away. I think alternative proteins can make a meaningful contribution to reducing climate change, but it will likely be a very slow process in terms of global protein supply. For example, even very optimistic models project something like 5% of protein supply in 2030 coming from these technologies. It won’t be fast enough to come close to solving the food emissions problem by itself.

Why are you hopeful that animal-based agricultural systems can be improved?

I have heard people who invest in alternative protein space argue that it would be like trying to make gas cars more efficient rather than switch to electric. But in this case, I think two things are different. First, there haven’t really been historical incentives to improve emissions of animals, so there could be a lot of innovation for a little investment. Second, we know these systems will still be the majority for a long time, so there’s a lot of benefit to improving them.

Read the full article about fake meat alternatives by Rob Jordan at Futurity .