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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

Blueberries

In last week’s blog I listed 10 possible courses of action to fight global warming and consequent climate change during 2015 and asked readers to discuss which actions they felt were best. A reader named Darcy suggested a eleventh action: “I think the list is missing something big though, soil/agriculture. Changing fossil fuel use is critical but we might actually have a chance at stopping climate change by getting more carbon back into the soil. It is the hidden toll of industrial fertilizers etc, we're adding individual nutrients instead of composted organic matter.” She also provided a link to an article about this (click link "soil and carbon" on left)

Her point is an excellent one. An article published in late 2012 reported that a partnership of 15 international research institutes concluded that our global food system generates one third of humanity’s greenhouse gas output. Many people are already attempting to counter this by supporting locally-oriented sustainable practices; many parts of the country have seen an explosion of “locavore” eating and farmers’ markets.

Elli and I are part of this trend, but I don’t always practice what I preach. I thought about this the other day in the supermarket. We wanted blueberries for a fruit salad. Maybe we shouldn’t have; we couldn’t expect to find locally grown organic blueberries in New England in early January (it was 15 degrees out). I had two choices – a small plastic container of organic blueberries at $13/pound, or a large plastic container of regular blueberries at $5/pound. To make matters worse, either choice came from Chile.

I could picture the weekly stream of Boeing 747s loaded with thousands of plastic boxes and bags of blueberries and grapes headed for supermarkets throughout the Northeast. I wondered about the carbon footprint of the petroleum-based fertilizers coating the endless acreage needed to produce fruit on that scale, coupled with the fuel costs of air transport, farming equipment, trucking to and from the originating and arriving airports, and the carbon generated by manufacturing massive quantities of petroleum-based plastic packaging.

Yet, I bought the bigger package of blueberries.

I’m not always guilty. Elli and I eat a lot more locally grown and organically produced food than we used to. We’ve stopped buying red-meat for environmental reasons. I’m aware of our carbon footprint, and try to reduce it. But my own inability consistently to make the least greenhouse gas intensive choice reflects the limits of trying to solve humanity’s global warming dilemma through individual choice. Until we alter the institutional underpinnings of multinational corporate food production, we’ll do no more than nibble at the edges of the problem. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, or rationalize that our minor carbon indulgences don’t matter, but it means that if we are to succeed we must change the system. Read More 
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