Food and Carbon Footprints

Trying to calculate the carbon impacts of your foods is mostly a fool’s errand. You might fret that your “organic” tomatoes come from China, arriving at your local whole foods “soaked in diesel fuel” as Michael Pollan likes to say. As This NYT op-ed says, we just don’t have enough information to make the right decision, to weigh the relative impacts of farming operations, distribution, storage, etc.

Fortunately, we don’t have to! We have this awesome invention called “capitalism” that does all the dirty work for us. All we have to do is price carbon correctly, and the markets will suss everything out for us. Ain’t it grand?

This comes via Brendan Nyhan, who correctly concludes:

These sorts of anomalies are likely to be pervasive in the production process. As a result, “we” can’t really make intelligent decisions as consumers on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the food production cycle — producers can, but only if they have an economic incentive to do so. That’s why we need a carbon tax. If the price of storing and frying potatoes reflects the damage it does to the environment, then producers will have an incentive to figure out a better way. Consumers won’t have to worry about “food miles” and government won’t have to try to calculate “carbon footprints” of various industries. The same principle applies to the production of any sort of commodity good.