This is not what New Mexico grapevines look like in February
Buying locally as measured in “food miles” – the distance between where food is grown and where it is sold – is a poor indicator of a product’s impact on the environment and is thus not a valid way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is the conclusion of an Economic Note published by the Montreal Economic Institute and prepared by Pierre Desrochers, associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga, in collaboration with Hiroko Shimizu, a private consultant.
“There are perfectly legitimate reasons for consumers to make the personal choice of buying locally grown food if, for example, they find products from local farms to be superior in quality or freshness,” Prof. Desrochers stated. “On the other hand, the supposed environmental benefits of buying locally just aren’t there.”
Rather than looking only at the distance between the place of production and the grocery store, it is preferable to ensure that food is produced as efficiently as possible in the most appropriate places, even when they are far away. The researchers point to an American study showing that production is responsible for 83% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, whereas transportation accounts for only 11% of total emissions…
A full assessment of food’s environmental impact must also take account of transportation to its final destination in the consumer’s home. The many trips by car to bring home small volumes of food, as done by each family, have a relatively significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Cars are less efficient than the huge ships or airplanes that move food from where it is grown to where it will be sold. Shipping enormous quantities of food requires far less energy per apple or lamb chop, even if the distance is much greater.
The report, Will Buying Food Locally Save the Planet?, is over here in a .pdf.
Having spent a truly boring portion of my life sorting out logistics and traffic management, none of this is a surprise. I only hope some of those who approach ecology as a religion – learn better.