The great localism swindle


From the FT:

On the issue of carbon emissions, Maxwell contends, citing research by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that half the total environmental impact of food transport is caused by individual consumer shopping trips – in fact, Maxwell says, more than the impact of transporting it from overseas. And there is the issue of jobs in developing countries. In Kenya alone, more than 1m jobs depend on exporting fresh produce to the UK.



..two Carnegie Mellon researchers recently broke down the carbon footprint of foods, and their findings were a bit surprising. 83 percent of emissions came from the growth and production of the food itself. Only 11 percent came from transportation, and even then, only 4 percent came from the transportation between grower and seller (which is the part that eating local helps cut).

(Grabbed from MR)

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The great localism swindle

  1. So what’s your point? Because it’s not going to end all emissions, we shouldn’t even bother?

    Or is it that people shouldn’t bother feeling good if they make small changes to their lives to help out, because those small changes don’t mean anything in the larger scheme?

    So which is it? That people should feel like crap, or that we should give up?

  2. “So which is it? That people should feel like crap, or that we should give up?”

    Or: that people should devote their energy to something that actually matters.

  3. I am not sure if the point of this post is to say that we should NOT buy local. Given some other writing by Mr. Potter, I thinkit is.

    However to frame your argument in this fashion sets up a straw man of the “Buy Local” movement – that it is offered/pursued as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    As someone who prefers to buy local, I see that as merely a plasant side benefit. What I like about buying local is that the food tastes better. That is about it. A strawberry from Carleton County (in my case) tastes nicer than one from Chile. Potatoes bought with the dirt still on them from a local grower taste nicer than potatoes trucked in from Idaho.

    As well, getting to know the producer of yur crop, the woman who raises the cows, the man who grows yoru spinach allows you to form a nice human bond with someone. Not that I think a job for a Canadian is worth more than a job for a Kenyan, but it is not worth less.

    But mainly, it just tastes nicer. Am I being swindled?

  4. Chris, if you genuinely enjoy the quality of the produce you can buy locally, and place value on having a personal relationship with local farmers, that’s great.

    The point, I think, is that locavorism as a movement is, for most proponents, more concerned with the social signaling mechanism of “doing something” about environmental impact (in a way that doesn’t really interfere with luxury lifestyle choices) than with that alleged goal. Driving to Wal-Mart once a month to stock up on staples doesn’t have the same upscale appeal as hitting half a dozen boutique grocery stores and farmer’s markets every week for all those local products, true. But, if it in fact would go further towards achieving a lower environmental impact, many “locavores” become merely holier-than-thou hipster hypocrites.

    The question is, are you justifying luxury spending habits with unproven Green rationalization? If not – if you just enjoy local products for their own sake – then how could you be swindled?

  5. I don’t know about being ‘greener’, but I do know that ‘localism’ is a boon if you are a farmer or farm labourer. It ahs never made sense to me that the tomatoes that I pick go into the stomachs of kids in the states rather than 10 km to the nearest town. Unless there;s a farmers market that day. But still.

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