The Null Device

Global trade and global warming

How much does global trade, and the economic reality of centralising production of types of food, contribute to global warming? (via jwz)
Sustain, a U.K.-based food and farming alliance, has shown that iceberg lettuce flown from Los Angeles to London requires 127 calories of fuel for every food calorie. Sustain also reports that countries often end up swapping food instead of importing critical items that cannot be produced locally. The U.K., for example, imported 126 million liters of milk and exported 270 million liters in 1997.
Researchers at Iowa State University have found that fruits and vegetables travel an average of 1,500 miles within the U.S., a 22 percent increase since 1981.
The very essence of trade -- transporting goods from producers to consumers -- takes a toll on the environment. Free trade may appear to be the solution to many economic problems when social and environmental "externalities" are ignored. Global warming is only one such externality, but its sheer scale and complexity make it a litmus test for whether the emerging global economy can be sustained in the long run.

There are 3 comments on "Global trade and global warming":

Posted by: al http:// Sun Dec 14 09:03:22 2003

Hi there linked up with your blog via dutch bint, and have enjoyed your stuff. But I have to say, regarding the above; the globe is still emerging from an ice age, global warming is not anything we are able to effect to any real degree. It seems to me that the important question is not 'can we save the world?', but,'can we save our own sorry asses some on this planet before the universe disposes of us?'

Posted by: Michael S. Mon Dec 15 17:25:18 2003

Well that's one way of looking at it. Others think that trade barriers and subsidies *encourage* the inefficient use of energy: "The Netherlands uses seemingly cheap natural gas to grow about $0.7 billion worth of tomatoes per year--over 700,000 tons--in more than 3,800 acres of greenhouses. Cold, cloudy Holland is not an obvious place to grow tomatoes. It takes over 100 times as much energy to produce them as the tomatoes actually contain. Over three-quarters of the fuel heats the greenhouse, and 18 percent goes toward processing, mainly canning. About two-thirds less energy would be needed to grow the tomatoes in, say, Sicily and *air-frieght* them to Holland. Instead, Dutch tomatoes, most of which are not actually consumed there, are loaded into giant trucks that rumble across the continent to exployt slightly lower labor costs of laxer regulations, before being eaten or winding up in a tube of tomato paste." (Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, et al., p. 200)

Posted by: Ben http:// Tue Dec 16 03:00:06 2003

Or as Reverend Fred Phelps was saying in a sermon I listened to the other day, there is a reason why so much aid money is squandered trying to help Africans grow crops.

"It's a desert, you idiot! Of course nothing's going to grow there!"