Currently browsing posts about: Climate change

May 5 2009

Food miles: do they matter?

Thanks to Dick Jackson, chair of environmental sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health, for sending me the latest paper arguing that food miles – the distances foods travel before they get to you – make no difference to climate change.  Eating less meat, say the authors, is what counts.

Never mind the assumptions on which such estimates are based.  I have no idea whether they make sense.  But before jumping to interpret this paper as an argument against the value of local food, Jackson suggests that we think about the other, perhaps less tangible, benefits of local food production.  He is a transportation expert so he particularly emphasizes reductions in air pollution, noise, congestion, paving, heat, and the removal of trees.  On the personal side, the benefits include more physical activity, “social capital” (the conversations and other transactions between consumers and farmers), income that stays in the community, and – not least – food that is fresher and tastes better.

I’ve always thought that the real benefits of local food production were in building and preserving communities.  I like having farms within easy access of where I live and I like knowing the people who produce my food.  If local food doesn’t make climate change worse and maybe even helps a bit, that’s just icing on the cake.  Or am I missing something here?

Mar 2 2009

Today’s chocolate problem: cow burps

Today’s snow storm has closed New York schools and cancelled my scheduled lecture on Staten Island.  This unexpected holiday gives me time to contemplate the latest challenge to marketers of chocolate candy: gas emissions from dairy cows.

Cadbury estimates that 60% of the carbon footprint created by its chocolate operations in the U.K. comes from dairy cows.  The average cow, it says, gives off 80 to 120 kilograms of methane annually, an amount equivalent to that produced by driving a car for a year.

The remedy?  Reduce cow burps.   How?  Cadbury is going to try feeding them more clover, more starch, and less fiber, and treating them better.

Will this work?  If it does, will you buy more Cadbury chocolate?

Dec 5 2008

Animal agriculture and climate change

The effects of agriculture on climate change are not something I’ve written much about, mainly because I don’t know how to evaluate the assumptions involved in assessing the effects.   Different assumptions lead to different conclusions.  But if we are going to develop agricultural systems that are truly sustainable, they will have to keep greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum.  Yesterday’s New York Times lays out the issues pretty well.  If its analysis is correct, we all need to be eating a lot less meat.  In any case, this seems like a good place to start the conversation.

Aug 29 2007

Livestock and Climate Change?

Today’s New York Times business section is worth reading for an article about advertisements run by PETA and the Humane Society stating that eating meat has a worse effect on climate change than cars do. The ads are based on a report from FAO (the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations) arguing that the “livestock sector” is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases and water pollution.  This sector, says the report, accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.  This seems like a lot but the report adds it up from three sources: deforestation, digestive gases, and manure. Livestock, the FAO report says, should be a leading focus for environmental policies.

Somehow, this report got by me and I’m glad to know about it.  It links diets that are good for people with those that are good for the planet and gives more good reasons for the value of eating a largely plant-based diet.

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