Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Driving Cars Better for the Environment than Walking

Yeah, I thought that too. Or maybe not.

This is a weird article that I'm not really sure I can believe.
Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby.

The sums were done by Chris Goodall, campaigning author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, based on the greenhouse gases created by intensive beef production. “Driving a typical UK car for 3 miles [4.8km] adds about 0.9 kg [2lb] of CO2 to the atmosphere,” he said, a calculation based on the Government’s official fuel emission figures. “If you walked instead, it would use about 180 calories. You’d need about 100g of beef to replace those calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as much as driving.

“The troubling fact is that taking a lot of exercise and then eating a bit more food is not good for the global atmosphere. Eating less and driving to save energy would be better.”

Mr Goodall, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford West & Abingdon, is the latest serious thinker to turn popular myths about the environment on their head.

I'm going to bet that this has more truth in the UK than here in the US. For some reason I think they have a higher car efficiency there, but I have absolutely nothing to back that up with.

Eugene Volokh
, whose site I found this at has this comment.
Some such demands may indeed be quite sound, and there certainly are real environmental hazards. Poisoning our neighbors, and ourselves, is bad, if there are alternatives that poison less at acceptable cost. (Recall that some degree of environmental harm is inevitable to get important benefits; to give a simple analogy from the context of biological poisoning, we put our fellow citizens at risk of contagious disease whenever we walk near them, even when we seem asymptomatic, but we think the benefits of such interaction exceed the cost.) But I'm cautious about jumping on bandwagons in this field, and the more strident the bandwagoneers, the more I wonder whether they've really examined the tradeoffs dispassionately, carefully, and thoroughly.
Odd thing is I do think that many extreme environmentalists would prefer to be killing off humans rather than finding realistic solutions.

I also love this statement from the article:
Catching a diesel train is now twice as polluting as travelling by car for an average family, the Rail Safety and Standards Board admitted recently. Paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic because of the extra energy needed to manufacture and transport them, the Government says.
And maybe my thought on their car efficiency is sound (maybe not) but the rest of their economy isn't sounding too great by this statement:
Simply cutting out beef, or even meat, however, would be too modest a change. The food industry is estimated to be responsible for a sixth of an individual’s carbon emissions, and Britain may be the worst culprit.

“This is not just about flying your beans from Kenya in the winter,” Mr Goodall said. “The whole system is stuffed with energy and nitrous oxide emissions. The UK is probably the worst country in the world for this.

Which makes me wonder just how much worse the US is. Larger population, many more commuters, less fuel efficiency. Food transported longer distances in some cases probably is just as much of an aggravating factor as the UK has.

Get this list from the end of the article:
— Traditional nappies are as bad as disposables, a study by the Environment Agency found. While throwaway nappies make up 0.1 per cent of landfill waste, the cloth variety are a waste of energy, clean water and detergent

— Paper bags cause more global warming than plastic. They need much more space to store so require extra energy to transport them from manufacturers to shops

— Diesel trains in rural Britain are more polluting than 4x4 vehicles. Douglas Alexander, when Transport Secretary, said: “If ten or fewer people travel in a Sprinter [train], it would be less environmentally damaging to give them each a Land Rover Freelander and tell them to drive”

— Burning wood for fuel is better for the environment than recycling it, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs discovered

— Organic dairy cows are worse for the climate. They produce less milk so their methane emissions per litre are higher

— Someone who installs a “green” lightbulb undoes a year’s worth of energy-saving by buying two bags of imported veg, as so much carbon is wasted flying the food to Britain

— Trees, regarded as shields against global warming because they absorb carbon, were found by German scientists to be major producers of methane, a much more harmful greenhouse gas



Granted said...

In other words, no one knows what the hell they're talking about. I do like the burning wood bit since I spend a considerable amount of personal energy keeping the wood pile built up.

Anonymous said...

It does seem like the scientists say whatever advances their particular foible. I would agree with the sentiment expressed above. Nobody really knows what's going on.