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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ethics and carbon

The latest thing in ethical consumerism in the UK seems to be the concept of "food miles", how far your meat and veg etc has to travel to get to the supermarket shelves. A couple of articles have made me stop and think about this a bit more than just superficially and I have come up against what is surely going to be one of many dilemmas in the effort to live a "greener" life.

The first one took me a bit by surprise - the idea that flowers grown in Africa and then flown to the UK actually produce fewer carbon emissions than those grown in say the Netherlands (BBC article). The reason behind this being that you have to heat greenhouses in Holland but not in Africa and that takes a lot of energy to do to produce flowers for Valentine's Day.

Having read that article, the following BBC news story didn't surprise me all that much; farmers in Kenya are worried about the reaction of supermarkets in the UK to consumers who want to reduce food miles. Their livelihoods are at whim of a fickle public it would seem.

So the dilemma is "do I buy local food or not care how far it's flown?". Assume for the moment that I want to reduce my carbon footprint, then there's no point simply putting the number of miles on the packet of beans. That could in fact give you the wrong idea entirely and increase your carbon output! If it's going to be labelled it will have to be the entire amount of carbon produced in growing and transporting the beans (and making the packaging).

Then assume that I am also a person who is concerned for the well-being of the farmers growing the food. Should I be more concerned about the farmers in one country at the expense of those in another? Farming is not an easy business wherever you are, I suppose the argument is that farmers in the UK (for example) have alternative job opportunities whereas farmers in Africa might not be so fortunate (but then if there were no farmers at all in the UK that probably wouldn't be good either - makes me think of the Golgafrinchams in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who shipped out all the middlemen in their society, including the telephone sanitisers, only to be wiped out by a virulent disease spread on unsanitised telephones. Admittedly the farmers would probably have been deemed of true value and got to stay on Golgafrincham, but I can't help thinking a country which doesn't produce any of its own food is asking for trouble).

So I have come to the conclusion that I will not worry so much about whether the food I buy comes from far-flung locations nor will I worry that I am taking someone's livelihood away if the vegetables I'll be planting in the garden this year actually grow big enough for me and Kav to eat. Hopefully that should keep everybody happy!


Anonymous said...


Ryan Somma said...

Heya Kav! I'm glad to see you're still fighting the good fight. Part of my post was inspired by yours. I've got more to unload on the Global Warming subject, and I'm glad to see you're on top of it. The Republicans here in America are finally accepting Anthropogenic Global Warming, it's just a few fringe elements who still reject it, and the more moderate members of the party are openly embarrassed by the skeptics... Now we just have to convince the Conservative audiences who restrict their media to conservative pundits (I'm not holding my breath.)

: )