Carbon footprint: beware the simple or easy answer

Carbon Footprint hits big time with major piece in "New Yorker." On newstands Feb.

Carbon Footprint hits big time with major piece in "New Yorker." On newstands Feb. 19th is issue of the mag with an article by Michael Specter about carbon footprints, consumer awareness and how that plays into reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He won't please the anti-government crowd with his conclusion: consumer choice and wise purchasing will not be enough. It will take regulation, and it will take investment. That would be both goverrnment and corporate, as well as all those personal bills we keep putting onto our credit cards.

Specter says: "Personal choices, no matter how virtuous, cannot do enough."

He also explores the complexity of figuring the carbon footprint of a product. Distance shipped before purchase is only one part of the calcuation, he reminds us. Specter quotes an agricultural researcher who says, "The idea that a product travels a certain distance and is therefore worse than one you raised nearby … doesn’t take into consideration the land use, the type of transportation, the weather, or even the season.”

The carbon footprint of roses grown in The Netherlands for export to the U.K., Specter writes, is “six times the footprint of those shipped from Kenya,” even accounting for the carbon emissions when roses are shipped by air. Why? Roses are almost always grown in heated greenhouses in The Netherlands.

Specter also talked with a global wamring expert who says paying people and poorer nations to do the right thing by the environment would be money well spent. One proposal: paying tropical nations to preserve their forests which act as large carbon sinks for the whole planet.

But then where would we get all that cheap furniture in the big box stores? No more teak salad forks? Egad. Civilization as we know might dwindle down to just the Internet and SUVs.

The carbon foorprint article: "Big Foot. Im measuring carbon emissions, it’s easy to confuse morality and science." Throw in corporate profit concerns you got a miasma.

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