Food for Thought: Counting Carb(ons) Not so Easy

 If you listen even a little  to the building conversation about global warming and its possible effects on our lives, you know one thing: Assuming this phenomenon is real, and we do embark on some worldwide crusade to lower emissions and save the polar bears, life is going to get much more complex than it is today.

Case in point: The complicated math of establishing the real “carbon footprint” of anything. In an  earlier post, I talked about the growing “locavore” movement, the idea that eating things grown or made  closer to home was preferable because less energy was expended in bringing the food to your plate.

But an intriguing piece in today’s New York Times reminds us that we’re pretty early in the game here, and what seems to be a low-carbon-dioxide choice may turn out to be anything but. A key quote:

. . .  scientists . . . 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.

Someday soon, will each foodstuff in a store carry a label disclosing not just its  carbohydrates but its  carbon count?   Okay, these pickles are 1400 pounds per ton, but look–these are 1200!  

For  those of us who still wonder how to answer that “paper or plastic” question,  future grocery decisions could get awfully complicated.


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