I'm a big fan of systems thinking. Once again, while reading The Week, I was rewarded with a wonderful illustration that serves to unpack this complex subject. The piece, written by one of my favorites -- William Falk -- also prompts the question . . . so what? we do nothing???
On my Saturday shopping expeditions, I've noticed a change over at the Whole Foods. A new sign has popped up here and there amid the heirloom tomatoes, specialty cheeses, and fresh-roasted coffees, bearing the single virtuous word: "Local." It's a wonderful salve to the conscience: My fellow shoppers and I live amid such embarrassing abundance, yet simply by paying $4 for a head of local lettuce, we can do our part to save the planet from global warming. Or so it seemed, until some scientific spoilsports at Lincoln University in new Zealand ran all the numbers. To accurately calculate a product's cabron impact, they found, you have to go beyond "food miles" -- the distance that kiwi or artichoke-flecked sausage traveled before reaching your table -- and figure in how much fertilizer, transported water, electricity, and other energy was used to produce it. Lamb raised on New Zealand's sunnier, grasier hills and hipped 11,000 miles to Britain, the study found, produced a mere 1,520 pounds of carbon emissions per ton. "Local" British lamb, which requires more intensive ccare, prodcued 6,280 pounds --- four times as much.
As if that heresy were not upsetting enough, a British scientist has calculated that walking to the store contributes more to global warming that driving a car. Walking, it seems, burns calories, which have to be replaced by eating food. And producing food -- especially beef and dairy products -- is more carbon-intensive than burning a smidge of gasoline, particularly since ruminating cattle emit so much methane. Now does this mean we can do nothing to slow global warming? No. It only means that the world is enormously complex, and that simple soulutions to big proplens--solutions that make us feel comforted and virutous -- are almost always illusory.