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Posts Tagged ‘externalities’

I can think of a lot of excuses for why I am not a perfectly green girl. First, there is the issue of not even knowing what to do. Lately, I have been on a Buy Local, Eat Local kick. The next thing you know, I run across this article in Monday’s New York Times Op-Ed section, about “Food That Travels Well”. In less than a page, the article succeeds in casting doubt on what was probably too simplistic of a view to begin with. Basically, it says that food produced locally is not necessarily better than food from far away. According to James E. McWilliams, the author of the article,

Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, no doubt responding to Europe’s push for “food miles labeling,” recently published a study challenging the premise that more food miles automatically mean greater fossil fuel consumption. Other scientific studies have undertaken similar investigations. According to this peer -reviewed research, compelling evidence suggests that there is more – or less – to food miles than meets the eyes.

It all depends on how you wield the carbon calculator. Instead of measuring a product’s carbon footprint through food miles alone, the Lincoln University scientists expanded their equation to include other energy-consuming aspects of production – what economists call “factor inputs and externalities” – like water use, harvesting techniques, fertilizer outlays, renewable energy applications, means of transportation (and the kind of fuel used), the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during photosynthesis, disposal of packaging, storage procedures and dozens of other cultivation inputs.

Incorporating these measurements into their assessments, scientists reached surprising conclusions. Most notably, they found that lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6, 280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy products and fruit.

These life-cycle measurements are causing environmentalists worldwide to rethink the logic of food miles. New Zealand’s most prominent environmental research organization, Landcare Research-Manaaki Whenua, explains that localism “is not always the most environmentally sound solution if more emissions are generated at other stages of the product life cycle than during transport.” The British government’s 2006 Food Industry sustainabilit y Strategy similarly seeks to consider the environmental costs “across the life cycle of the produce,” not just in transportation.

What to do? It seems that more attention should be paid to accurate carbon labeling. No doubt, a huge undertaking. I already mentioned this in one of my earlier posts, The Real Price.

Tomorrow, I will share more excuses for why it is not so easy being a perfectly green girl.

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