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!