I’m just mooching this off one of the blogs I frequent – Catallaxy Files – but I thought I should spread the word around. The basic idea, which I’ve tentatively mentioned to some of you before, is that shipping food long distances is not necessarily a bad idea.
Catallaxy has an interesting post about buying locally to cut down on CO2 emissions. Of course that’s not the only reason to buy locally – there are plenty of other good reasons to do so, like supporting your local community, getting the freshest food possible, ensuring you’re getting organic or non-GM food, or to get varieties unavailable elsewhere. Also, the study mentioned refers to UK and US conditions, not Australian ones, so there will be important differences in the figures and products. However, the concept remains the same.
There is the issue of buying unseasonal food. The study mentions hothouse tomatoes – fresh local tomatoes in an English winter requires them, as would Tasmania for example. But if you are willing to adjust your eating habits to the seasons, or to preserve food, you can avoid some emissions and help the planet.
What the study points out is that those emissions are very, very small. That is, if everyone bought locally (thereby sacrificing diet variety, spending more, and creating extra work for ourselves), we would reduce emissions by a few percent at most. To be sure, any reduction is welcome, and addressing climate change will mean adopting a suite of measures, each of which alone will not do much but that together will do a lot. But there are other costs apart from a reduction in fresh food and higher grocery bills to consider, which the Catallaxy post mentions – poor countries will suffer.
Poor countries typically have a large agricultural sector. Current restrictions on their ability to sell into the international market (like subsidies to rich-country farmers, or quotas) means they are a lot poorer than they need to be. If everyone bought locally in order to help stop global warming, the effect would be ironically devastating on those places that have the most to fear from climate change.
So my advice is buy locally, by all means, but do it for the right reasons. Reducing emissions is not one of them.