Saturday, October 17, 2009

Loco for Local

Here's another salvo in the local foods debate, this time from the FT .  Similarly to beer, the key issues are the efficiency (carbon, water and otherwise) of the production, the extent of the packaging, and the way the product is consumed -- transportation appears to be the least important piece once again, not that this justifies overlooking it. 

In a study of the carbon footprint of a packet of crisps, Walker's says the biggest proportion (36 per cent) can be put down to agriculture and producing the raw ingredients. Another big portion comes from packaging (34 per cent). Distribution and transport account for just 10 per cent of the footprint, according to the study, which was conducted with the Carbon Trust, the UK government-backed environmental adviser.

"The whole food miles debate is nonsense," says Euan Murray, general manager of carbon footprint at the Carbon Trust. "For the vast majority of products there's no link between the distance it has travelled and its carbon footprint."


Food waste is also a growing problem. When left in landfills, solid food waste produces methane, which can leach into the atmosphere. In the UK, about a third of food purchased is thrown away, according to the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. Meanwhile, in the US, more than 25 per cent of the food Americans prepare is discarded, generating about 43.5m tonnes of food waste a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

I'll be honest in saying that I don't have a lot of detailed knowledge of the whole green debate, but every time I read something new, I find that the a lot of the way things are framed is pretty misleading.  In fact, I'll go one better and say that I'm sliding inthe direction of subscribing to the "secular religion" view of most of the movement.  The idea that we are a part of the planet and having an impact on it is pretty indisputable, but the responses -- from ethanol to large scale solar to the obsession with non-GM local food -- are so ill conceived that it betrays the gap between the treating the problem as a practical question and lending it an moral-religious overtone.  I'm not saying that we should count on some quick techno-breakthrough to solve all our problems (a la Freeman Dyson and his carbon eating trees) but I think we should approach it as a technological question, with the biggest emphasis on the social technology we so sorely lack.  This is not how I see it treated in general.

Did I mention they gave the Nobel prize to an anarchist who studies this stuff? 

No comments: