"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Green Tomatoes

Food miles don't matter very much. I've always thought so, and here's an article with several interesting links by Chris Blattman making the point effectively. See especially the New Yorker article on carbon footprints by Michael Specter, wherein finally, at fourth remove, you find this interesting quote from John Murlis (*):
"You can feel very good about the organic potatoes you buy from a farm near your home, but half the emissions—and 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.”
(*) No, I've never heard of any of these people either.

Good intentions and intuition aren't enough. Eventually somebody has to do some arithmetic.

The good thing about a carbon tax is it saves everyone the trouble. No need to think about whether food miles are important. Whether they are or not, the carbon tax will do the arithmetic for you and let you know.


Dano said...

I admit I gave you a hard time about this, and I'll pull the paper and give 'er a read. On the surface, it seems compelling.



Anonymous said...

Good intentions vs doing the arithmetic. So few of us are capable of grasping the math, and so rely on intuition. I think you gave the example some years ago of the cost of recycling vs the benefit, and specifically the costs in terms of energy, water, detergent, time, of washing out a plastic peanut butter container. Yet, the idea that recycling is good overrides the idea that we need to consider the costs, and act appropriately on a case by case basis. Good intentions should always be suspect.

Dano said...

Well, this is a good paper. I'm not sure I'll increase my consumption of Mexican avocados, although my family's ranch in S CA got hit as hard as the rest of them, so no Murrican avocados for a while if we're lucky.

Anyway, I think it's compelling enough that staffers will be briefing their electeds on it. We certainly do eat oil, and I wouldn't count on food prices coming down, esp if Ukraine or China has a poor year soon.

Apologies for the hard time about food miles, Michael.

But please do note where the GHGs come in - production. Again, the EROEI for organic is much lower and many crops' yields don't suffer in comparison. This will be important soon. Food miles, maybe not so much.