Tuesday, June 24, 2008

a question for the readers

From a Salon article questioning the environmental superiority of local foods:
While locavores list numerous reasons for eating local -- including freshness, taste and boosting regional economies -- one primary argument is protection of the environment. Long-distance food transport sucks up more fossil fuels, says the Farmers Market Web site, and unleashes more carbon dioxide onto our planet.

That does sound dire. But what if conventional distributors make up for the long journeys by driving big trucks packed with produce? Let's say a distributor travels 1,000 miles and carries 1,000 apples to market, while 10 local farmers each drive a pickup 100 miles and carry 100 apples each. The local farmers log fewer food miles but cover the same total distance -- and use a comparable amount of fossil fuels -- for the same amount of food.

It appears to me that Kwok's hypothesis here relies entirely upon the assumption that per mile a distributor's barge and 18-wheeler generates the same amount of carbon emissions as a farmer's pickup, which is inconceivable to me. In other words, 1000 miles is 1000 miles, whether traversed by a Ford or a Peterbilt.

Is my logic solid or am I missing something?


Anonymous said...

Well, let's see. According to the internets, a semi will get between 4 and 9mpg. According to my dad's extended-cab full-size Chevy, a truck the likes of which farmers generally drive, they'll get 13-15mpg.
So they'll both travel 1000 miles carrying 1000 apples, but the semi will NOT use a "comparable amount of fossil fuels" to do it. It will, rather, use two to three times the fossil fuels of a typical farm-use truck.
I don't know if the extra consumption is balanced by the smaller amount of CO2 put out by diesel, but its soot output more than makes up for it in overall impact on global warming.
The article looks like a stellar example of a failed exercise in revisionism.

Zee said...

As I've mentioned, my ability to process mathematical equations is less than stellar these days, but both of you sound right on, and that Salon author sounds like a doofus.

TioChuy said...

Also it appears the article fails to factor in waste. You may bring 1000 apples but they won't stay fresh and you might not find buyers for the whole load before they spoil. So there is obviously the bang for the buck/ quality versus quantity bit not factored in. Produce is not like a package of white undershirts that will sit there and not rot or go out of style before someone buys them. On top of all this out of season produce is shipped from South America or Australia on airplanes before it is put on a truck which is also not mentioned. So sure maybe you can't have a strawberry in December but I think you can make a point for a smaller carbon footprint and fresher food.

el ranchero said...

Also good points. I kept going over this argument in my head for about an hour after I read it, sure that I must have missed something. After all, surely someone writing for a major magazine (with an editor, mind you) wouldn't botch the logic that obviously, right?