Wednesday, March 19, 2008


if you have an all-dairy diet, you should probably drive a lot to compensate for how much damage you're doing to the environment.

If you walk 1.5 miles, Mr. Goodall calculates, and replace those calories by drinking about a cup of milk, the greenhouse emissions connected with that milk (like methane from the dairy farm and carbon dioxide from the delivery truck) are just about equal to the emissions from a typical car making the same trip. And if there were two of you making the trip, then the car would definitely be the more planet-friendly way to go.

via freakonomics

arright. this topic has officially gone off the deep end. apparently, people who drink lots of milk should drive to the store, not get their calories from a non-dairy source.

now all these people who read freakonomics are going to be blustering about quoting the blog and justifying driving, without thinking about the fact that a cup full of milk is way more emission-intensive than, say, produce from a nearby farm.

(the comments on that particular post are full of other eye rolling responses.)

i get it. emission and footprint calculation is complicated. but OMG, stop throwing out argumentative little blasts like this that are going to deter people from taking personal action to change their lifestyles! not all choices about emissions are this complicated or distressing!

i was irked about the same thing as i read a portion of this recent article from the new yorker.

The environmental burden imposed by importing apples from New Zealand to Northern Europe or New York can be lower than if the apples were raised fifty miles away. “In New Zealand, they have more sunshine than in the U.K., which helps productivity,” Williams explained. That means the yield of New Zealand apples far exceeds the yield of those grown in northern climates, so the energy required for farmers to grow the crop is correspondingly lower. It also helps that the electricity in New Zealand is mostly generated by renewable sources, none of which emit large amounts of CO2. Researchers at Lincoln University, in Christchurch, found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped eleven thousand miles by boat to England produced six hundred and eighty-eight kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions per ton, about a fourth the amount produced by British lamb. In part, that is because pastures in New Zealand need far less fertilizer than most grazing land in Britain (or in many parts of the United States). Similarly, importing beans from Uganda or Kenya—where the farms are small, tractor use is limited, and the fertilizer is almost always manure—tends to be more efficient than growing beans in Europe, with its reliance on energy-dependent irrigation systems.

that is, in fact, totally interesting and important to keep in mind. but it got me to wondering just how many products would actually end up being tricky and counter-intuitively problemmatic like that. i would guess that it's rare--that if you were to look at 100 types of produce, *most* of them would be better bought locally than from another country. i could DEFinitely be wrong--but my point is that i'd rather hear about generalities than exceptions.

also, i would like to see the authors of posts and articles such as these add some framing to their discussion that points out that there are ways to shift the emission imbalances that they're pointing out. (like, noting that the walk to the store would be fine if you use something less ecologically-damaging than ANIMAL PRODUCTS to get your calories. or pointing out that if britain systemically changed their ag production to include more renewable energy and less artificial fertilizers, they could hook up some less carbon-intensive foodz.)

agreed that emphasizing the exceptions instead of focusing on the overall cost-benefit analyses is a bit of a ploy for attention, but i think your title summary is also a bit if an exaggeration of what they were getting at, which is that each instance is a unique calculation of the context of an enormous array of other considerations, which, if picked apart, are seriously wonky.
i would be hard-pressed to disagree with anyone accusing me of exaggeration. ever.

but i maintain that the subject line is just an extension of their logic.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?