link roundup

  • I continue to have a huge blog crush on Do The Math, especially the analyses of how to reduce personal energy use.  While some of his findings are shocking (shrimp are one of the least energy efficient foods?  Say it ain’t so!), many of his methods for measuring and drastically reducing energy use are inspiring.  I’m not currently willing to take some of the steps he does (e.g., solar panels, or completely turning off my heat), but many of his methods can be applied in moderation, and I’m a big fan of his emphasis on starting by measuring where your big expenditures are.
  • Freakonomics had a recent podcast about the effectiveness of herd mentality in persuading people to make changes such as reducing energy consumption or water usage.  Telling someone, “Most of your peers are doing it,” is often one of the best ways to influence people’s behavior.  Conversely (and counterintuitively), telling people, “Please don’t do X, because lots of people are doing X, with terrible consequences,” often encourages people to also do X.
  • Slate asks: what happens to the clothes we donate?   “Most of our donated clothing does not end up in vintage shops, as car-seat stuffing, or as an industrial wiping rag. It is sold over­seas. After the prized vintage is plucked out and the outcasts are sent to the fiber and wiping rag companies, the remaining clothing is sorted, shrink-wrapped, tied up, baled, and sold to used-clothing ven­dors around the world. The secondhand clothing industry has been export-oriented almost since the introduction of mass-produced gar­ments. And by one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume, with the overwhelming majority sent to ports in sub-Saharan Africa.”

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Link roundup

Trying something different from the normal, more extensively researched style.  Should link roundups become a regular feature?  Do you have any suggested links?

Greener Choices – A site from the publishers of Consumer Reports which is chock-full of information about environmentally friendly purchases and habits.  They’re very focused on quantifying impact and offer useful side-by-side comparisons and calculators.

Guide to food labels – What do food labels really mean?  Which ones are regulated?  Greener Choices also offers an Eco-labels center addressing overlapping issues.

Khan Academy and education reform – the online math-focused education website, Khan Academy, is radically changing the way some classes are taught and some students are learning.  Can this technology revolutionize education?  When, how, and for whom?

A Lever Long Enough covered innovative and effective ways to spread e-books and literacy across the world.

Charity rating systems still coming up short – I’ve written previously about problems with rating charities.  A recent scandal demonstrates how different rating methods currently used remain insufficient.

How to stop solicitations by mail – giving anonymously is not the only solution.

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buying local vs. eating less meat

Lots of my friends are “locavores” — people who try to buy their food from somewhere nearby, rather than importing it from far away.  One reason they cite is environmental friendliness — transporting food takes energy, which mean releasing greenhouse gasses.  Eating local is one way to reduce your carbon footprint.

A recent analysis, however, summarized by Andrew Winston of the Harvard Business Review, points out that far more energy goes into growing food for the average U.S. household than transporting it:

  • 83% of the average U.S. household’s carbon footprint for food comes from growing and producing it. Transportation is only 11%.
  • Different foods have vastly different greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity, with meat requiring far more energy to produce, and red meat being particularly egregious, requiring 150% more energy than even chicken.

So the journal article adds this up to an obvious conclusion: if you want to reduce your food’s carbon footprint, eat less meat. In short, “Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.”

Also of note: lamb is far worse for the environment than beef, which is far worse than other common meat products.  The same graph compares the energy used to produce a number of foods.

Of course, there’s no reason not to do both things to help the environment — buy more produce from local sources and eat less meat and dairy.  But if you find yourself weighing the costs and benefits in order to decide when and whether to buy local or eat red meat in a given case, keep in mind the relative contributions to your carbon footprint.

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buying frozen

I hear a lot about how to be better — in terms of a number of factors, but largely sustainability — about my eating habits.  Buy organic.  Buy local.  Eat less meat.  Buy wild fish — caught sustainably — instead of farmed. But here’s one I hadn’t heard before — buy frozen.

Some recent research (NYT article— may require login; Environmental Science & Technology paper — requires subscription; Ecotrust press release — freely accessible) indicates that, in terms of salmon, buying fish that is flash-frozen at sea prior to shipment (instead of shipped fresh to markets or restaurants) makes a bigger environmental impact than any other factor.

The reason: Most salmon consumers live far from where the fish was caught or farmed, and the majority of salmon fillets they buy are fresh and shipped by air, which is the world’s most carbon-intensive form of travel. Flying fillets from Alaska, British Columbia, Norway, Scotland or Chile so that 24 hours later they can be served “fresh” in New York adds an enormous climate burden, one that swamps the potential benefits of organic farming or sustainable fishing.

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