July 27, 2010

It's Dinner Time – Feel the Guilt!

Category: Environment — Cranky @

Recently I began to do some semi-serious research into the food I eat. That’s a damn shame, really, because I think I would rather have remained oblivious to some of the facts.

I usually buy my groceries at supermarket chains like most other people. In some cases the vegetables carry stickers that show their place of origin, but not always. I know that I buy a lot of vegetables from California, but the fact hadn’t really sunk in before. Somebody grows a tomato in the United States, and then it’s carried all the way to me, way up here in Northern Alberta.

Now, no matter what your stance on “climate change” you have to admit that’s kind of stupid, and a terrible use of energy. We can grow a tomato here. It doesn’t make any sense to buy one produced that far away. The same goes for fruit. If I can buy a peach grown in B.C., why would I buy ones from another country?

For lots of people the answer is “price”. I’m not strapped for cash, though. I can afford to pay for local produce, and so I’ve been going to the local farmer’s market and paying more for it. Now, the produce isn’t really “better”, although it’s fresher, but I feel better about supporting local business. I don’t buy organic because the swiss-cheese set of rules that define what can be labelled organic make that designation a complete crock. But globalization in the food market is doing for local farms what Walmart does to local businesses. It can’t be sustained.

Meat… that’s another story. Meat is an environmental disaster. I’m not going to get into the details, but meat is a hideous waste of food energy, at an enormous cost.

I love shrimp, but I’ve learned the real cost of that shrimp dinner. Shrimpers in the Gulf Coast are relatively careful, and for every pound of fish they discard about five pounds of “by-catch” – unintended catch, usually dead or dying, tossed back into the ocean. In China the ratio is much worse. Every pound of shrimp costs up to twenty pounds of sea life.

Fish in general is problematic for me. All commercial fish are transported here over great distances, and are caught in ways that are also by-catch prone. The “Dolphin Safe” label means nothing, and turtles and sharks are commonly caught by accident. A 10 year study published in 2003 found that 90 percent of all large fish have disappeared from the oceans. Trawlers are tearing up vast areas of the sea floor, destroying sea life and leaving the equivalent of gravel roads behind.

Basically, every kind of food that I really like is irresponsibly farmed, unreasonably transported, or environmentally costly. About the only people who can claim their food comes at reasonable cost are vegans who eat only locally grown produce. If you’re one of those people, stop golf-clapping and pick up your teacup poodle and your green tea. I’m not converting.

I will continue to eat meat, but only on weekends. I will cut back on shrimp, but I will still consume it. I will eat fish, but I’ll choose those fish based on their estimated real environmental cost. I should have just ignored the questions. Sometimes I complicate my life unnecessarily.


September 28, 2009

Keep It Flowing, Baby!

Category: Environment — Cranky @

According to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, it takes 441 gallons of water and 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. In the process, vehicles and farm equipment will produce CO2, and the cattle will produce methane.

I love beef, and I barbecue a lot of it in the summer using natural gas.

According to National Geographic magazine, my province is destroying its ecosystems by digging gigantic holes in the oilsands. Toxic “tailing ponds” kill waterfowl and wildlife. Our per capita emissions are very high for Canada.

I work in critical applications for an oil pipeline company.

My hobbies include recording music, photography, watching movies and documentaries, cardio workouts, and playing the occasional video game. For these I have a powerful home computer, two monitors, a 32″ LCD screen with dedicated blu-ray player mounted in front of my powered elliptical trainer, a 50″ plasma television, a surround sound system, a Playstation 3, two media player devices, five electric guitars, a mixing board, a rack full of audio gear, and independently powered speakers.

I use vast amounts of electricity.

Most recently I have owned a 1998 Mazda Miata, a 2002 Mazda Miata, and 2006 RX-8. They got city mileage of 20, 20, and 16 miles per gallon, respectively. Despite being without family I opted for an SUV this time – a 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe with the comparatively large 6 cylinder engine. It’s slightly better than the RX-8, but still under 20 miles per gallon.

I sometimes drive my SUV three blocks to buy one can of pop.

I am the poster child for western culture, a finely tuned machine of resource consumption.

I hunger for energy. Feed me.


August 18, 2008

My Car Isn't The Problem

Category: Environment — Cranky @

For the first time that I’m aware of, somebody looked at my car with disapproval.

It happened in the parking lot of a Superstore. A woman was loading her groceries into her Toyota Prius, and she looked over at my car and said, “Don’t you think it’s irresponsible to drive a car like that?”

“How so?”, I asked.

“I know what kind of mileage the RX-8 gets,” she replied.

A number of responses entered my head, but every one of them led down the path of a prolonged argument with somebody who had already made up her mind. It did, however, get me thinking. I wonder what it would take to get off of the petroleum treadmill? If somebody is truly against fossil fuels, it seems to me that their goal should be to not use any.

The bags that contained her groceries were plastic, and most of the foods were likely encased in plastic of some sort. Plastics are made of oil. Cars contain huge amounts of plastics, and the manufacturing of them uses even more. The production of the food she bought certainly involved oil. After all, harvesters don’t run on good wishes and rainbows. Even if the food production in question was somehow miraculously free of oil usage, it was undoubtedly transported to the grocery store in vehicles that consume oil.

Oil is found in fuel, plastics, rubber, detergent, paint, fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, make-up, dyes, film, candles, and much, much more. If you want out of oil, you’re going to have to live in an unpainted wood house without electricity. You’ll also have to live without light after dark. You can’t own a vehicle, nor can you own a bike, since tires are made of rubber. You’ll have to grow your food in walking distance from your home, without the aid of fertilizers, and you must haul it back to the house by hand. You can’t have a telephone. You can’t even have running water, since the pumps involved in bringing it to you use electricity that most likely originated in a power plant that runs on coal (at least around here). No TV, no internet, no anything.

In short, you have to regress to the existence of a pioneer homesteader.

I drive less than 10,000 kilometers per year. I wonder if the lady and her Prius could claim the same? In raw numbers I might actually use less fuel than she does. For her to be judgmental about my car seems silly. After all, if we were having a baby seal clubbing contest, she’d be feeling smug and morally superior because she clubs slightly fewer seals.