06 August 2007

total carbon footprint

Wife sent me an editorial from the NYT (that i'm sure you have to subscribe to see) that draws out the idea of full carbon life cycle costs of local foods compared to shipped-over-great-distances foreign foods. (i consider california to be foreign.) in my own attempt to sound like a good earth-steward, i preached the lite version of the local gospel. so i found it interesting to see some numbers about total costs.
Incorporating [measurements of 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] 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.
those are some significant digits. so maybe it's not as important to focus on the little picture. the same goes for my garbage. EconTalk has an interview with Munger regarding the total costs of recycling—or at least hints at it.

perhaps it's not as important to focus on getting every last shred of "recyclables" into the blue bin at my curb, especially considering that much of it likely ends up in the landfill anyway. instead, i should consider a total pollution life cycle: how much pollution do i save in recycling each item versus sequestering it in a somewhat inert state below a future playground or neighborhood? in fact, maybe it's more efficient to use an item for some other purpose than to change it back into what it was.

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