Feeding energy reform
I took one of those ecological footprint tests again (www.earthday.net/footprint). Not much has changed since last time I took the quiz. If anything, I’m driving more, biking lots less. If everyone lived like me, we’d need 3.1 planets to sustain our lifestyles.
My unconsidered consumption habits begin with a typical family dinner, starting with, say, cheese and crackers from the Midwest accompanied by an Australian cabernet. The main course: salmon from Seattle, peas from Pennsylvania and kiwi fruit imported from Santiago, Chile, for sale at Costco. In the United States, the average prepared meal includes ingredients produced in at least five other countries, according to a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.
I’m below average.
All this food production and transportation adds up to a huge chunk of our nation’s energy consumption. The frozen peas I buy in a bag at Winco require several times more energy to produce, package and make their way to Reno than do much tastier peas that my friends grow in their gardens. And that succulent kiwi from Santiago? Transporting one kilogram of asparagus from Chile to New York uses 73 kilograms of fuel energy and releases 4.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the research of Harriet Friedmann, a sociologist who studies food and economic relations.
Could that possibly be right? Does it mean my two-kilogram or so container of kiwi used the equivalent of 146 kilograms of fuel energy?
I didn’t have the heart to go see Al Gore’s treatise on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Neither, apparently, did Kurt Vonnegut, who nonetheless ranted recently in a Rolling Stone interview about the state of the planet.
“We’ve become far too dependent on hydrocarbons, and it’s going to suddenly dry up,” Vonnegut said, likening himself to the Biblical prophet Jeremiah. “You talk about the gluttonous Roaring Twenties. That was nothing. We’re going crazy, going crazy about petroleum. It’s a drug like crack cocaine.”
The companion Web site to Gore’s film features some dire warnings: Deaths from global warming could rise to 300,000 people a year in 25 years. Global sea levels could rise 20 feet. More frequent, intense heat waves. More droughts. More wildfires. A million species driven to extinction by 2050.
Seems obvious we need to reduce the amount of carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere. But our leaders refuse to consider policy change. Remember lowering the national speed limit back to 55 miles per hour to save fuel during the “crisis” in the 1970s? Now even the simplest steps—like adopting fuel standards that would require huge SUVs to get better gas mileage—are made to sound like part of a nutty liberal conspiracy.
Conservation is, as Gore’s title suggests, inconvenient. Americans use twice the energy of the average Western European and about 10 times the energy of the average citizen of China. We know we should carpool more. Recycle. Buy energy efficient light bulbs. Yet change seems hard. We live in a state of environmental doublethink, putting Sierra Club stickers on our overdriven cars.
And why am I buying Australian wine? Please. With Napa-Sonoma right over the hill, revolution doesn’t have to be painful.