Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wired's Inconvenient Truths

The latest issue of Wired (which some people think should be called Weird), has a series of articles that actually take cutting carbon emissions seriously. Their recommendations:

  • Live in Cities:
    Urban Living Is Kinder to the Planet Than the Suburban Lifestyle

  • A/C Is OK:
    Air-Conditioning Actually Emits Less CO2 Than Heating

  • Organics Are Not the Answer:
    Surprise! Conventional Agriculture Can Be Easier on the Planet

  • Farm the Forests:
    Old-Growth Forests Can Actually Contribute to Global Warming

  • China Is the Solution:
    The People's Republic Leads the Way in Alternative-Energy Hardware

  • Accept Genetic Engineering:
    Superefficient Frankencrops Could Put a Real Dent in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Carbon Trading Doesn't Work:
    Carbon Credits Were a Great Idea, But the Benefits Are Illusory

  • Embrace Nuclear Power:
    Face It. Nukes Are the Most Climate-Friendly Industrial-Scale Form of Energy

  • Used Cars — Not Hybrids:
    Don't Buy That New Prius! Test-Drive a Used Car Instead

  • Prepare for the Worst:
    Climate Change Is Inevitable. Get Used to It

In short, these are the sort of suggestions that will make the Greens summarize that issue of Wired in the phrase “We have to destroy the Earth in order to save it.”

I have no great objection to most of the platform — it avoids the usual objection that cutting carbon is an excuse to suppress capitalism — but I'd like to nitpick one of the planks:

But even organic fruits and veggies are a mixed bushel: Organic fertilizers deliver lower-than-average yields, so those crops require more land per unit of food. And then there's the misplaced romanticism. Organic isn't just Farmer John; it's Big Ag. Plenty of pesticide-free foods are produced by industrial-scale farms and then shipped thousands of miles to their final destination. The result: refrigerator trucks belching carbon dioxide.

Organic produce can be good for the climate, but not if it's grown in energy-dependent hothouses and travels long distances to get to your fridge. What matters is eating food that's locally grown and in season. So skip the prewashed bag of organic greens trucked from two time zones away ߞ the real virtue may come from that conventionally farmed head of lettuce grown in the next county.

Local agriculture means farms in urban or suburban areas. That in turn means lower population densities and thus more sprawl.

In any case, there's a simple way to tell if lots of fuel is being used for your food: Look at the price. If enormous amounts of land or fuel really are used for your dinner, the price will be enormous as well.

By the way, is there any actual evidence that organic food is healthier on the whole? The claim is regarded as so obvious that the proponents are relieved of any need for evidence. There are isolated results for one or two types of food but there are isolated results in the other direction.

It is a bit amusing to read the comments. Many of them sound like “Stone the heretics!”

Addendum: I just remembered I came up with another anti-green solution to a possible global-warming problem: styrofoam.


Blogger John A said...

" is there any actual evidence that organic food is healthier on the whole?"

Er, no. In fact that bit abbout "no pesticides" is tantamount to a flat-out lie... They use heavy-metal pesticides (eg copper) or like rotenone that were "grandfathered" in and escaped testing applied to the "non-green" modern ones.

More at - (Independent UK - The great organic myths)

Myth five: Organic food is healthier

To quote Hohenheim University [a pro-organic department's study that nonetheless - well... teqjack]: "No clear conclusions about the quality of organic food can be reached using the results of present literature and research results." What research there is does not support the claims made for organic food.
Myth six: Organic food contains more nutrients

The Soil Association points to a few small studies that demonstrate slightly higher concentrations of some nutrients in organic produce – flavonoids in organic tomatoes and omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk, for example.

The easiest way to increase the concentration of nutrients in food is to leave it in an airing cupboard for a few days. Dehydrated foods contain much higher concentrations of carbohydrates and nutrients than whole foods. But, just as in humans, dehydration is often a sign of disease.

The study that found higher flavonoid levels in organic tomatoes revealed them to be the result of stress from lack of nitrogen – the plants stopped making flesh and made defensive chemicals (such as flavonoids) instead.¶

12:38 AM  

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