Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green

There seems to be a surge lately in counterintuitive stories about green living. First the London Times claimed that taking the train in England may burn more oil than busting out the family car. Soon after, another Times piece declared that merely walking to the grocery store uses up more energy than driving. (This one cited the work of Chris Goodall, "the latest serious thinker to turn popular myths about the environment on their head.") Then The New York Times and Boston Globe followed suit with articles suggesting that eating locally, the holy grail of crunchy types the world over, isn't all it's cracked up to be. Is everything we've been told about saving the planet totally wrong?
Well, not exactly. Much of this green contrarianism is either misleading or in dire need of caveats. Yes, diesel trains in England can sometimes give off more emissions per passenger-mile than cars do, but that's largely because they run well below capacity--the obvious fix is for more people to ride them, not fewer. Likewise, walking to the supermarket only contributes more toward global warming than driving does if you assume, among other things, that the walker gets all of his calories from beef. And while it's true that growing lettuce in a Vermont greenhouse during winter can use more energy than importing heads from Chile, on the whole, eating locally still makes plenty of environmental sense, especially if you stick to seasonal produce. No need to toss out the conventional wisdom just yet(...more>>)

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