My friend Michael mentioned a talk by Catherine Mohr in which she discusses how complex it is to judge the environmental costs of your actions (TED talk; video podcast on iTunes). Her specific concern is energy use, and she analyzes a few examples in frightening detail. It’s frightening because by the end, you might despair of ever getting these decisions right yourself.
Recommended viewing if you’ve ever asked yourself “exactly how far would I have to drive these batteries before I’d be better off tossing them in the trash?”
I know most of you have never asked yourself that question, but watch the talk anyway. It’s just 10 minutes.
Mother Jones has a long piece on alternative forms of agriculture. I won’t try and summarize the article, but it hits a lot of pet obsessions of mine: the limits of organic and local food and the existence of environmentally friendly alternatives to organic food, written from a perspective that’s sympathetic to the broad goals of the organic movement. (Side note: I didn’t really find the associated Michael Pollan interview to be that great. He’s probably overextended).
Apologies that this and the last post were glorified link posts. I’ve mostly tried to stop doing that, unless the link is too good, or I have something to add. Otherwise, I’ve been sticking links I want to share in the sidebar. For those who have the privilege of reading what I share on google reader, the lists partially overlap, but are non-identical.
Hopefully you know that the environmental benefits of local food are highly questionable (here’s one summary–note that the moron promoting local food is eating local meat!). If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your food, go vegetarian and stop thinking about the issue. However I suspect that certain types of local food will become much more important over time–specifically the contrast between food that is flown overseas, and food that only travels by land. As far as I know, there are no really good proposals for reducing the carbon emissions of air travel, whereas there are real ways to reduce the impact of ground transport. So that should partially change the balance.
The article mentioned above notes the difficulty of figuring out which foods are actually the best in terms of carbon emissions–one reason to think that carbon taxes are essential, since they more effectively process information than we can.