Green Beat: September 2009
New ideas from near and far for a healthier, more sustainable future.
Eat meat or drive; organic farming studies, Cash for Clunkers update; Whole Foods rethink; SLC has new, green permitting process.
by Pax Rasmussen
The hell with hybrids-it’s all about the rabbit food
Last month, the Washington Post reported what vegetarians have been saying for years: The meat industry is really bad on the environment. It’s one of the worst things we humans do, according to the Post. Article author Ezra Klein references an old United Nations report that claims up to 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock; but more surprising are the other two studies mentioned in the piece. In the first, two University of Chicago researchers estimate that you’d do better, carbon-wise, becoming vegetarian than trading in your clunker for a Prius. The other, a study from Carnagie Mellon University, asserts that eating vegetarian just one day a week does more than eating locally-every day.
So why aren’t more enviro organizations pushing the veggies? According to Klein, fear of public resistance. Apparently, coming out against meat just doesn’t look very good. Klein says, “The visceral reaction against anyone questioning our God-given right to bathe in bacon has been enough to scare many in the environmental movement away from this issue.”
Also: Wanna learn a little more about where your food comes from and what it takes to make it? Check out this neat thing, From Pasture to Plate (it’s visual clicky fun): http://news21.jomc.unc.edu/index.php/stories/diet/from-pasture-to-plate.html
Props to organic farming
It is logical that organic farming is better on the planet than conventional, chemical-based methods, and is most likely better for our health. Common knowledge also holds, though, that organic farming produces far smaller yields and isn’t the answer for feeding the world. This looks true when one considers the price of organic food in the supermarket.
Perhaps this is less true than we thought, however. According to an article published last month by Telegraph.co.uk, organic farming is probably the answer for developing nations. Author Geoffrey Lean mentions a report published last year by the United Nations Environ_ment Programme and the UN Conference on Trade and Develop_ment that found that 114 pro_jects in Africa more than doubled their yields by implementing organic practitices. He cites another study from the University of Essex that found an average increase of 79% in 57 projects that covered 3% of the cultivated area in the Third World. This isn’t to say that these Third World farmers are producing more per acre than are conventional farms in the U.S. and other developed nations; they aren’t. But the thing is, most farmers in developing nations can’t afford the chemicals and fertilizers used in conventional farming, and by implementing modern organic farming methods and shunning chemical methods altogether, these farmers have managed to dramatically increase their production. Lean doesn’t suggest all farming should be organic, though-according to him, the resulting drop in Western food production would be catastrophic. Instead, this is a really good place to start the farming revolution.
Cash for Clunkers update
Last month, I reported on the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program: Trade in a vehicle that gets 18 miles per gallon or less and get a chunk of change toward a new, fuel-efficient model. Before the August issue even hit the stands, the funds for the program had dried up. Luckily, the government pumped more money into the works almost right away. But has the program been a success? Depends on whom you ask. According to an article on AlterNet, folks on both sides are quoting numbers every which way. Even so, the article claims that so far, “157,000 transactions and $664 million in rebates have cycled through the program, and the average fuel efficiency has increased by 61%.” Sounds pretty good to me. Check out the article for all the facts and figures.
Whole Foods’ profits slip-push for more organics, healthier food
Guess what? Whole Foods isn’t immune from the lagging economy. No surprise: Among my friends the healthfood superstore is known (albeit somewhat lovingly) as “Whole Paycheck.” Shopping at Whole Foods has never been cheap-and with the economy being what it is, that’s starting to cut into their bottom line. According to a Wall Street Journal article published last month, Whole Foods is launching a “healthy eating” initiative to stave off profit losses caused by “consumers’ reluctance to spend money on the company’s pricier foods.” The idea is to offer more reasonably priced organics and other healthy foods, instead of their previous focus on gourmet items.
City launches web-based plan management tool-saves time, money and helps the environment
Probably the most exciting of my green gleanings this month: Last month Mayor Becker announced the launch of a “new collaborative submission, review and tracking program to streamline development services and interdepartmental communication.” Basically, this makes it so developers, architects, contractors and residents can file planning paperwork with out running all over the city submitting paper plans. According to the software creator, Avolve, based on the 2,500 permits issued each year in Salt Lake, this will cut 360,000 miles driven, eliminate 512,000 pounds of paper and prevent 2,300 pounds of hydrocarbons from being released into the atmosphere each year. If you’re planning on filing for a building permit, now’s the time to get on it.