The Locavore's Dilemma

Reading Notes (not a review)

Well presented polemic. I agree with almost everything in the book. However, quantification, tables and charts would help me propagate the ideas to other geeks. Sometimes a picture is more convincing than words. This book will change fewer minds than it should, though it is important and well reasoned. The book that actually changes minds will persuade those who disagree, not the already-persuaded (like me).

Annoying page headings, chapter numbers in notes, etc -

Food miles - more fuel used getting green beans from Kenya to the UK than from market to home. Quantify.

< 4% of fuel used for long distance transportation, most spent on production, esp. heated greenhouses. Quantify.

Some actual numbers on fuel consumption per ton-mile for various modes would be helpful.

Astronauts consume higher "food miles" than anyone; every kilogram of food shipped up burns hundreds of kilograms of rocket fuel, and thousands more in rocket fabrication and ground logistics (all those pad workers and mission controllers drive to work!). Astronaut food travels millions of miles before they eat it. Astronaut time costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour - it is ridiculous to imagine them spending time growing food in orbit, ignoring important scientific observations (including climate!) to avoid shipping some food up and poop down. And in spite of all that, we even ship up fresh fruit, even though most of it is skin and seeds and water, because well-fed, happy astronauts are more productive.

Land use: C. Reick, T. Raddatz, J. Pongratz, and M. Claussen, 2009: Contribution of anthropogenic land cover change emissions to pre-industrial atmospheric CO2, Tellus, doi:10.1111/j.1600-0889.2010.00479.x. Agricultural land changes was the main cause of anthropogenic CO2 runup until the mid 20th century.

Reducing land use with efficient crops is a Real Good Idea, because more land can revert to wild, high CO2 sequestering species. Developing crops with reduced need for artificial fertilization is better, because we are using up the low-cost mineral sources. Hopefully we can gene-engineer low-fertilization cultivars faster than we deplete mineral feedstock for fertilizer.

Page 138: "( Of course, carbon dioxide is also plant food, and, as such, higher concentrations of this gas should ultimately prove beneficial for agricultural production, but we will not address this issue here.)"

Degree-Days - plants with sufficient nutrients and water mature after a certain number of degree days. If "global temperature" increases, then so do degree days in some regions, perhaps leading to two crops per year (with additional water and nutrients!). Check this - degree days may be a proxy for sunlight.

For storable crops like grains, cheap robotics may substitute for carbon fuel. The cost of running a ship is depreciation, fuel, maintenance, and crew. Skyrocketing fuel prices may result in slower speeds and less fuel per ton-mile. Automated ships can reduce crews and facilitate maintenance to balance the increased depreciation costs of fewer trips per year. Indeed, one can imagine lifting and emptying whole ships, reducing expensive port time and increasing the trips per year again. This could happen at all stages of the transportation chain, and a mix of fast and slow transport could stretch the availability of a regional harvest. A corollary of the authors' thesis is that food sitting still in silos and storage bins ties up capital better spent on continuous (possibly slow) transport.

Page 139: A warmer Canada? But what about the polar bears? :-) (paging Squeeky Fromme) Perhaps if someone develops tasty polar bear recipes (I'm a vegetarian, please don't invite me for taste tests), and gene-engineers develop plant-based Purina polar bear chow, they will move from endangered species to vast tundra-trampling herds, driving opponents to apolexy. While I prefer an Arctic full of ice and frozen tundra, bear-herding Eskimos in cowboy hats would be amusing - and it Ain't My Land.

Page 140: "global trading system that is fair and competitive" - an acquaintance fixes computers for Mercy Corps in Kabul. He is full of ideas for fixing Afghanistan; feeding the locals to dig out the canals, then reducing worldwide import tariffs on Afghan cotton woven into cloth. Busy well-fed, globally-connected farmers don't have time for the Taliban.

P. 147. Local Oregon strawberries (especially the Hood variety) are high sugar and ship and store poorly. They are probably also dripping with pesticides. The imported California varieties are big and flavorless - easily machine picked, and "durable". This is an opportunity for research and genetic engineering - a Hood successor that could grow in more places, last two weeks rather than 4 days, and shipping techniques that could move fragile berries around the world, would greatly increase the value and range of the crop. Global trade could pay for the research. Then I could buy Hoods from New Zealand or Guatemala, and get them more times per year.

LocavoresDilemma (last edited 2012-12-19 23:29:15 by KeithLofstrom)