Tag: Harvard University

Food miles!

It is more complicated than it first appears.

I saw this article on the Sustainability at Harvard website and read it with great interest. I wanted to republish it to share with you but couldn’t readily see a copyright statement or an instruction regarding republishing. I sent an email but I was warned that Harvard receive a great deal of emails every day and a reply might not be forthcoming.

So ….. I have made a decision. I will publish the article and hope that it doesn’t infringe the copyright.

Before I do that let me ‘promote’ Sustainability at Harvard by giving you a little from their About page.

Together we are building a healthier, more sustainable community

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines making differences globally. While Harvard’s primary role is to address global challenges, such as climate change and sustainability, through research and teaching, the University is also focused on translating research into action. Harvard is using its campus as a living laboratory for piloting and implementing solutions that create a sustainable and resilient community focused on health and well-being.

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Do food miles really matter?

March 7, 2017

By Molly Leavens, College ’19

Leavens breaks down the nuances of how a food’s carbon footprint relates to the distance it travels from farm to plate.

The local food movement, with the goal of consuming food produced and grown within a close geographic region, has been gaining traction in recent years as a way of eating fresh and high quality foods and reducing one’s environmental impact. However, public messaging about the outcomes of this movement is divided and often leads to confusion and misunderstanding among consumers. This short article will attempt to break down some of the nuances of how a food’s carbon footprint relates to the distance it travels from farm to plate (commonly referred to as food miles).

So, do food miles really matter? Yes and no. 

For most American diets, the carbon cost of transportation is slight compared to the carbon costs of production (running the tractors, producing chemical fertilizer, pumping irrigation…). Therefore, the most effective way for most Americans to reduce their diet’s carbon footprint is not by buying local, but rather eliminating or reducing their consumption of animal products.

the most effective way for most Americans to reduce their diet’s carbon footprint is not by buying local, but rather eliminating or reducing their consumption of animal products. 

Cartoon by Harvard staff member, Mitra Farmand. www.mitrafarmand.com.

For a vegan, food miles contribute to a larger portion of their food’s carbon footprint. Plant-based foods have lower production footprints, so transportation is comparatively more significant. Even then, the raw mileage is hardly informative for determining carbon footprints; the mode of transportation is the key variable. Cargo ships are the most efficient, followed by trains, then trucks, and lastly planes.

That means a product flown from Chicago to Boston has a significantly larger carbon footprint than one shipped 11,000 miles from Asia to California.

Although exact numbers vary across analyses, flying one ton of food is close to 70 times more carbon intensive than transporting that same weight via a large cargo ship (source). That means a product flown from Chicago to Boston has a significantly larger carbon footprint than one shipped 11,000 miles from Asia to California. As a result, locality is more important for perishable foods that are often flown like raw fish, asparagus, and berries. Foods such as tomatoes, bananas, pears, and apples can all be harvested before ripening, stored for long periods of time, then inoculated with ethylene gas (the naturally occurring hormone produced by fruits that causes the change in color and flavor profile associated with ripening) before entering a supermarket. In many cases, these shelf-stable foods have lower carbon footprints when produced internationally because the carbon cost of production far outweighs that of transportation.

Another frequently cited comparison is that of lamb produced in England verses lamb produced in New Zealand. For a consumer in England, the New Zealand lamb actually has a lower carbon footprint. Our intuition failed us. Why? Sheep in New Zealand are generally raised on farms run by hydroelectric power. This energy saving is so immense that it overrides the fuel output of the 11,000 mile cruise to England (source).

A similar story unfolds here in Boston. Local meat production could be more carbon intensive because the animals must be housed in heated facilities during the cold winter months. For a large portion of the year, we are better off shipping in a tomato from South America than growing one in a local greenhouse.

A similar story unfolds here in Boston. Local meat production could be more carbon intensive because the animals must be housed in heated facilities during the cold winter months.   

Looking exclusively at carbon footprints neglects other important issues like water usage and farmer rights but it is none the less a valuable metric. Purchasing local food has many social benefits like boosting local economies, and increasing community cohesion and self-reliance. In conclusion, local food is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but it is important for consumers to define the values they hope to support through their purchasing decisions and think critically about when and where local foods support those values.

 

Looking exclusively at carbon footprints neglects other important issues like water usage and farmer rights but it is none the less a valuable metric.

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Like so many things in life they are frequently more complicated than they first appear.

It really is a very simple message!

Repeat after me: We are of this planet!  It’s really very simple!

There are times when I look back at my writings on Learning from Dogs, now well over 1,500 posts (1,633 as of today, to be anal about it!) and ponder if the fundamental message behind the name of the blog often gets overlooked.  The Welcome page states:

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!

Elsewhere on the blog, I underpin that proposition by listing the attributes of dogs:

Dogs:

  • are integrous ( a score of 210) according to Dr David Hawkins
  • don’t cheat or lie
  • don’t have hidden agendas
  • are loyal and faithful
  • forgive
  • love unconditionally
  • value and cherish the ‘present’ in a way that humans can only dream of achieving
  • are, by eons of time, a more successful species than man.

Now this is all fine and dandy but of what relevance is this to the mess that homo sapiens now finds itself in? Two parts to that answer come to mind.

The first part is that watching a dog out in the open countryside quickly brings home the fact that these animals are part of nature and, if push comes to shove, can live in the wild and fend for themselves.  Not saying that a domestic dog would enjoy the experience but that their wild dog and grey wolf roots still rest somewhere in a dog’s consciousness.

The second part of the answer is that all animals instinctively live in harmony, in balance, with their surroundings; with their environment.

For the incredibly obvious reason that dogs, as with all other animal species, are an evolutionary consequence of the natural history of Planet Earth.  That evolutionary journey from the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) part of the Canidae family, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  That journey all the way to the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris).

That ancient journey where the African wild dog (Lycaon pictuspainted dog) came together with early man. No one knows when but the African wild dog was certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago!

Two vastly different natural species, dog and man, evolving compatibly with each other for so many thousands of years.

Back to the attributes of dogs, in particular a dog’s ability to cherish the present.  Earlier this week I was chatting with Kevin Dick, friend from Payson, AZ days, about the ‘interesting’ times we are living in.  Kevin thought there was a significant difference between the generations born in the 1940’s and 1950’s and those born in later times.  Most people over the age of, say 55, were brought up to save for ‘a rainy day’ and, possibly, be able to leave a legacy to their offspring.  Kevin then went on to reflect that more recent generations exhibit a ‘buy today, don’t delay’ mentality.

A by-product of this materialistic instant gratification approach is that the whole damn consumer machine has created a total disconnect with the fact that we humans are of this planet.

The earth is the mother of all people..

(Chief Joseph 1840 – 1904, leader of the Wallowa band, a Native American tribe

indigenous to the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon)

Humans today fail to comprehend this fundamental fact: Our ability to harm the planet and think that it won’t affect our species is complete madness!  If only we could learn how to cherish the present in the way that our dogs do!

I’m now going to offer an essay from John Hurlburt.  I knew John had written this essay but didn’t get round to reading it properly until I had finished the introduction above.  I’m blown away by the resonance between the two but, as always, John’s words are so much more eloquent.

Inside Out

Climate change, religion, economics, government, politics and social issues are topics which create strong personal opinions and cultural divisions. We have difficulty accepting ideas which may conflict with our personal understandings. As usual, it’s an ego thing. The arrogance of our species is inclusive. We all suffer the consequences.

To counter our ego, we know that everything fits together. We exist in a unified cosmos with fluctuations and diversities that emerge around and through us.

Our present transformative state is as a biological form of energy and matter which possesses a conscious awareness of the natural order. We choose to ignore or deny the essential nature of our being at our own peril. Do we live only for the moment or do we live to insure our species future? That’s our fundamental choice.

Seek the truth and identify the common good.” Zoroaster [also known as Zarathustra, Ed.]

We are a consciously aware component of a living world in an isolated corner of a remote galaxy. Everything within and on the earth has an extraterrestrial origin. We live on an incubator we call the earth. We rarely truly communicate with or fully understand the energy of nature in our lives. Our critical thinking ability has become enveloped by an electronic cloud.

We generally agree that the actions of many religions and most politics are based upon short term human interests rather than upon the long term well being of our planet and its disappearing life forms. The fact is that we only began to emerge as a species about 100,000 years ago. Hubble telescope observations have dated our universal origin to roughly 13,002,000,000 years ago.

Could it be that we only imagine ourselves as independent beings? Could it be that beyond the mind games we play there is a vast reality greater that we can understand with our limited sensory apparatus and our finite minds?

Life is a transformative experience. All species, tribes, races and genders are united by the nature of life. We pass through a period of being selfish and ambitious during our journey. Many of us choose to move into these familiar ruts and furnish them. We do not always walk the way we talk.

Nature favors species which adapt to constant change in an emerging universe.

If we agree that our intelligence is judged by choices we make, there is some question about intelligent human life on earth. A recent Harvard University study of species in relation to change estimates that the life span of the human species is approximately 100,000 years. Sound familiar?

The wisdom of our brief human history tells us that we are on a careless and needless path to self destruction. All that’s necessary to verify this assertion is to turn on the news of the day. The systemic paradigm that has been imprinted on our psyches is in constant flux. As we live and learn, we realize that our purpose is to leave life better than we found it.

A delicate balance is necessary to maintain an even strain of faith in the natural process rather than dwelling upon our self centered fears of losing something we imagine we own or not attaining something we believe we want. The earth heals itself from the inside out. We can do the same as a species. Today is the tomorrow we dreamed of yesterday. What have we done to fulfill the true purpose of our lives?

an old lamplighter

So, yes, we have much to learn from dogs.

I will close as I started. We are of this planet!  It’s really very simple!

And more on consciousness!

Two recent videos highlight the mystery and fascination of determining what, exactly, is consciousness.

Before I get started, it crossed my mind that some readers on Learning from Dogs might struggle finding any link between the the title of the Blog and such esoteric topics as consciousness.  Let me try and explain.  On the home page of this Blog is written,

But 10,000 years of farming the planet’s plant and mineral resources have brought mankind to the edge of extinction, literally as well as metaphorically.

Dogs know better!  Time again for man to learn from dogs!

Here’s a recent comment I made to an article on Naked Capitalism,

In a much broader sense, it feels to me as though we have been partying on the edge of a global volcano for years and years. Greece is surely a metaphor for the craziness of so many countries.

Continuing that broader sense, the period that we are in, from political, economical, societal, environmental and ethical perspectives, seems bust. Good will eventually come out of this transition, of that I have no doubt, but what a fascinating period in which to be alive!

I firmly believe that the period we are presently living through is a transition between the last, say 30 years (in a sense, many more decades than that) and a more aware, sensitive period where mankind embraces a deeper, sustainable, relationship with the planet that is home and life to all of us.  Frankly, there is no choice!

Thus the nature of consciousness, our awareness of self, is a crucial element of the future.  The greater our self-awareness, the greater our self-understanding and from that better self-understanding comes all hope of recognising our attitudes and knowing that it is our attitudes that drive our behaviours.

So here follow two videos.  Settle back and be entranced!

The first is the last episode in a brilliant BBC series broadcast in 2007, probably one of the best TV series on psychology and neuroscience ever produced.  The full series is on Top Documentary Films but the last episode called The Final Mystery is all about consciousness.  Beware you are going to never see the world in quite the same way!

Here it is, The Final Mystery presented by neuroscientist Susan Greenfield.

The second video is from Season Two of the Through the Wormhole series.  It is called Is there Life after Death? and also explores the deeper aspects of consciousness.  As the introduction to the video says,

In the premiere episode of the second season of Through the Wormhole, Morgan Freeman dives deep into this provocative question that has mystified humans since the beginning of time.

Modern physics and neuroscience are venturing into this once hallowed ground, and radically changing our ideas of life after death.

Freeman serves as host to this polarized debate, where scientists and spiritualist attempt to define what is consciousness, while cutting edge quantum mechanics could provide the answer to what happens when we die.

Here’s the film; same health warning applies!  You are going to see the world differently after watching this!

Finally, do you have a dog at home?  If you do, ponder on how their conscious world engages them.  If science can’t explain human consciousness then all we have is our own intuition with regard to animals.  Not sure about you but when one is feeling a little low and a dog comes up and lays a head across you I feel a very strong conscious connection.

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home

What an amazing book this is.

Amazing!

I have written about Dr Rupert Sheldrake a few times on Learning from Dogs for pretty obvious reasons!  You can do a search on the Blog under ‘sheldrake’ but here are a couple of links.  Serious Learning from Dogs on January 10th, 2011 and Time for a rethink on the 14th April, 2011.

Anyway, I am now well towards the end of Sheldrake’s revised book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and it is more than fascinating.  Bit short of time just now so please forgive me if I do no more than show this video which sets out some of the background to the book.  Sheldrake’s website is here, by the way.