One expert is quoted saying "You can feel very good about the organic
potatoes you buy from a farm near your home, but half the emissions –
about half the footprint – from those potatoes could come from the
energy you use to cook them. If you leave the lid off, boil them at a
high heat, and then mash your potatoes, from a carbon standpoint you
might as well drive to McDonald’s and spend your money buying an order
of French fries." Ouch!
And here’s what the guy in charge of analyzing environmental impacts
of food in the UK has to say: "People should stop talking about food
miles. It’s a foolish concept: provincial, damaging, and simplistic."
He thinks the notion that a product that travels a certain distance is
therefore worse than one grown locally is "just idiotic" because it
doesn’t take into consideration the type of transportation, land use,
water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quantity and type of
fertilizer, type of fuel used to make the package, weather, the
season…AND SO ON.
- First, some great news for Michele and Elizabeth. "Last year a
study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is
actually more ‘green’ for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeau, which
is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck."
- And should Brits assume that locally grown apples are "greener"
than apples from New Zealand? Consider that New Zealand has more
sunshine, so its growers are more productive. Not to mention that
their electricity is generated primarily by renewable sources. It’s
already been determined that lamb that’s shipped 11,000 miles by boat
from NZ to the UK produces about one-fourth the CO2 emissions as
British lamb, in large part because pastures in NZ need far less
fertilizer than those in UK.
- Importing beans from Kenya is more efficient than growing beans
in Europe because Kenyan farms are small, use manure as their primary
fertilizer, and can’t afford tractors.
- And I bet Amy already knows about the study of the
environmental costs of buying roses shipped to the UK from Holland
compared to the ones flown from Kenya. Those heated greenhouses in
Holland cause the overall carbon footprint of their roses to be 6 times
that of the ones flown from Kenya. So sometimes flying is actually better? Man, this is giving me a very local headache.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE CARBON OFFSETS?
I suppose it had to come to this
– there’s something called the Chicago Climate Exchange, where members
buy and sell the right to pollute. Sure seems "morally unattractive,"
as Specter quotes one observer saying. And as expected, the Friends of
the Earth says this means that "people are trying to buy their way out
of bad behavior. Are we really a society that wants to pay rich people
not to fly on private jets or countries not to cut down their trees?
Is that what, ultimately, is morally right and equitable?"
I seem to recall voicing a similar gut reaction against carbon
offsets myself, even when the offset customer is Al Gore himself. But
the New Yorker article points to another way of looking at it,
one that’s more pragmatic than judgmental. We’re all alarmed by the
disappearance of tropical forests in places like Brazil and Indonesia,
but get this – those morally unattractive carbon offsets mean that
landowners are now being paid to preserve the forests. So if
the guys at the Chicago Climate Exchange have figured out a way to use
rich people’s profligate lifestyles to preserve those rainforests I say
"Have a nice flight!"
THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU CAN DO (according to Specter’s sources):
- Insulate your house properly.
- Get double-glazed windows.
- Get a new boiler.
Of course these things to do are all waay more expensive than
recycling plastic or switching to local food. Good thing my county
recently voted to give rebates for taking these very measures.
Photo by digihuva via Flickr.