Budiansky's article certainly generated a lot of criticism both here and over at Crunchy Chicken. Probably one of the most oft-repeated themes was "I don't trust statistics."
Which is fair, I suppose, but makes things difficult. I mean, I get that it's really damn easy to lie with statistics which is why I would want to know exactly which studies are being cited and then go and review the methodology before I accepted someone's statistics at face value.
The problem is though, if we want to answer these complex questions about carbon efficiency and energy use, and we want to do them fairly, we do have to sort of agree that we can study them with some sort of method. It's fair not to accept uncited and unverified statistics, but at the end of the day, social policy can't be determined on a wing and a hunch. It's fine for YOU to FEEL that local is the most carbon efficient, and for you to then make your decisions accordingly, but that doesn't NECESSARILY make it true.
Now the other criticism that came up was, "Budiansky is missing the point! This isn't about carbon miles it's about a food REVOLUTION!"
And it's fair, that the locavore movement is about many things, and about many things to many people. However, I also think it's fair for one article to address one facet of the locavore movement, which is most certainly about food miles. Now you may say that you're a locavore because you want to know the farmer who grew your food, and that's valid. But that doesn't mean that it's illegitimate for Budiansky to argue that locavorism isn't NECESSARILY more carbon efficient.
But back to Budiansky, who I think, sort of deserves a lot of criticism himself for issuing a stream of statistics without any mention of his sources (I know that this is totally kosher for an op-ed piece, but if he wanted to, he could have mentioned a study or two.) One of the things that struck me the most about the Budiansky piece is his findings that most of the energy consumption in agriculture comes from us, the consumers. From our fridges, stoves, dishwashers, and car trips to the grocery store.
And actually, given his findings, it's a little surprising that most personal environmentalists are railing against the article because in fact, the article, is, in many senses, a call to arms for personal environmentalism. What Budiansky is saying is, we're not going to reduce the energy consumption associated with food until WE the consumers start acting differently. What he's saying is that each of us, as individuals, can make a difference, by walking to the grocery, turning off the "heat dry" on our dishwashers, and yes, by turning off our fridges.
Of course, I suspect, that if there was a mass movement to turn off our fridges, some other op-ed writer would respond by calling us eco-nuts, and unveiling a heap of statistics that show that refrigeration constitutes a minor portion of America's energy use. But that's another story.
5 days ago