Friday, July 06, 2007

Vertical farms? Buying local in Manhatten

How cool would this be?

As many of you know, I no longer have a car. My Bimmer died just before I left for Japan. In Japan, there's no need for a car (well, mostly. I have a pile of old futons that need to be driven to the recycling center, and it's easier to go camping when you have a car to carry the BBQ, etc.), so I would take the train to work and tool around town on my bike. As of last April, I changed jobs and am able to bike to work, so I get some good exercise. It's not so great now as it's 30 degrees C and the rainy season, but a towel and sink help, plus no aircon means I sweat all day anyway, I just get a head start. This means I don't use any petroleum-based fuel for my transportation. It's all environmental, isn't it?

I was listening to NPR Science Friday's podcast a while ago, and they had Lester R. Brown on, who brought up a good point. If you live in the US, he said, and decide to save gas and walk a mile instead of driving, you'll save a mile's worth of gas, right? Well, all that walking has probably made you thirsty. So you drink a pint of milk to replenish yourself. Now that milk had to come from somewhere. And our globalized economy means that milk probably isn't from the dairy down the road. Most likely it's been shipped by refrigerated truck from a couple thousand miles away. So now you've just consumed more energy than you would've if you'd just driven your car. Counterintuitively, by attempting to conserve gasoline, you've inadvertently consumed more of it.

Now there are probably some logical holes in this argument. You burn energy anyway, by just living, so you'd have had to consume something in that time anyway, which means that not all that milk is going to replenish your lost energy from walking, most of it is for your brain and normal body functions. But it makes a good point about globalization that for many people is difficult to grasp. We've become so accustomed to the excesses available to us that anything else is alien.

Buying locally produced food is a good way to reduce this. Every school system I've worked in gets milk for the students. Each student gets one carton at lunch. I don't know if it's 'free' (funded by education taxes) or if it's paid for in students fees, etc., but it's there. This milk all comes from the school's town. It's locally produced. In many cities, even getting closer to Tokyo, you can spot open areas from the train that are planted, either with rice or a variety of vegetables. I'm not sure who owns the land, but I know people who rent a small plot and grow veggies that they use to supplement their diets. It's a small thing, but possible. I've got my tomato plant, which has flourished and has now started growing tomatoes. Their tiny and green, but they'll ripen up.

Not that I'm an environmental angel. I don't drive, but I fly often, roughly twice a year. And not piddling distances, either. March saw a roundtrip flight from Tokyo to Indy, and at the end of the month I'm headed to Malaysia for a month. That's another 7-hour flight each way. Yikes!


Ana said...

I drink water to replenish after walking, not milk so I hope that isn't as bad! If people stopped drinking so much milk period, think of how much gas and other resources we would save! Not to mention the better health of people who drink less milk. Cow's milk is specially made for cow babies, not adult humans!

Anonymous said...

Who drinks milk when they are hot and thirsty? Not to mention that the fuel we put in our cars is transported a lot further than the milk we drink. sorta makes that whole comment sound like it came from someone a bit soft in the head.

Jeremy said...

It's more of a thought experiment rather than a real situation. It's meant to show the absurdity of how much energy we expend moving things around. It's affordable because we don't put a price on the aftereffects of the fuel we consume to get things where we want them. Salmon from Chile, for example, is cheaper than the salmon from Hokkaido (northern Japan). But it also has to be shipped across the Pacific in a refrigerated ship.

Ana, if you drink bottled water, Evian from France, you could well be worse off than milk from Wisconsin. Energy efficiency-wise, not relating to milk.

If you replace glass of milk with bottle of imported water because you think Indy tap water tastes like a fish tank, does that situation makes more sense?

Ana said...

Actually, I don't drink bottled water. We drink filtered tap water. On the off chance that I do buy bottled water I buy the most local stuff I can find. Have you seen where a bunch of US cities are banning city sponsored bottled water? 5 years ago it was all the rage and no one would have been caught dead without a bottle attached to their hip! Now it is quickly beocming taboo. Although the amount of plastic bottles made to house soda and the like far out wiegh what is used for water!Damien and I are trying hard to buy local vegetables, eggs, honey etc. because we have also been reading a lot about the real cost of eating imported food and out-of-season food. I am reading a good book about it now by Barbara Kingsolver called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I am looking into joining Slow Food International as well. Are you familiar with that group?

Jeremy said...

I've heard of the slow food movement, but don't know too much about it. It sounds like a good idea overall, but mostly because I don't like fast food that much.

Japan is full of PET bottles and needs to cut down. At least they get recycled, but it probably isn't enough. Lately I've been making my own barley tea to take to work with me since it's cheaper. I just drop a teabag into my Nalgene bottle and stick it in the fridge before bed and when I wake up, I've got a liter of tea for the day.