Tag Archives: organic

Eating local doesn’t help the environment much

Cows are surprisingly bad for the environmentIt’s a good thing that being ‘green’ is becoming fashionable. We are hammering our environment so increased awareness is a good thing. That said, people don’t always think things through so sometimes their efforts don’t make the most sense. For instance in the past I have blogged that organic food is not necessarily good for the environment.

A fashionable way of eating green is to eat local foods – food bought from local producers. The idea is that buying local foods decreases ‘food miles’ – the distances that food must be transported by vehicles emitting greenhouse gasses.

However a study covered in a recent National Geographic article has shown that eating local doesn’t have much of an impact. The fact is that ‘food miles’ only contribute 11% of the total climate impact of foods. Eating beef 1 day a week less would be more effective that buying 100% of your food locally!

The reason for this is that producing cows is really tough on the environment. Cows need lots of grazing, and crucially produce a lot more methane. This impact is so significant that by reducing beef consumption you could easily benefit the environment more than by buying locally produced foods.

Is organic necessarily good?

The Economist has this article discussing the latest trends in ‘green’ foods like organic farming and buying local. I am regularly reminded of the article when I hear people advocating organic farming, etc.

If you look at the whole picture, organic farming is not as good as it seems.

  • Farming is bad for the environment – that is a given.
  • We need to minimize the impact of farming, but still feed the masses.
  • Organic farming is not nearly as efficient as that assisted (even responsibly) by synthetic fertilizers, genetic modification, etc
  • Therefore, unless you want people to starve, it is better to use more intensive (non-organic) farming methods
  • The alternative is to farm more land which would have disastrous impacts on the environment

For instance, the article points out that:

Global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation.

It’s great that people are willing to make the effort to “go green”. But you have to look at the bigger picture when evaluating the impact of your actions.