Thursday, January 31, 2008

Carbon Offsets for Training?

A racer friend sent me this: Check it out! Basically it says that assuming food calories derived from beef or milk, the carbon footprint of exercising your way somewhere is more than that of driving a car there! What?!? I usually feel like I am destroying the planet driving and flying clear across the country to race, but now the training itself too? So here’s a critique: Impossible to comment on methodology since any discussion of it is absent, but it is a big assumption to say people eat only beef, or even only milk. These are both obviously energy-intensive to produce. Lack of mention suggests a vegetable diet, maybe not even specifically a local vegetable diet, would not yield the same result. The take home message is not that one should stop exercising because it minimizes carbon output. Being dead minimizes CO2 output. More it’s is a condemnation of our food system. Even more it’s a condemnation of cheap oil that makes food with such an energetic cost affordable. Really if true does require steep reexamination of priorities. Also keep in mind that both oil and food are priced in a context of politics and subsidies. This added by an epidemiologist friend, true to his discipline: That since exercise is health-promoting, then the carbon cost associated with health loss/illness due to lack of exercise must be counted against the carbon savings associated with not eating/not exercising. Ideas?


PoorDumbBastard said...

Some factors that the author of the study is not considering here - the emissions expenditure to make and transport the fuel on top of the actual driving. He wants to include the production factors in the milk and beef, but neglects them in the driving part. How much does it take to produce the fuel, oil in the engine, coolant, transporting them to the stores for us to put in the car then, as well as the fact that someone has to build the car itself. Also what are the CO2 emissions of the of the stockboys and delivery men in that product distribution and production as well as the powering of those facilities? Oops, I also forgot the tires on the cars. One can do some serious nitpicking in these areas. I would've dinged him quite a few points for those alone. How does he propose to feed ourselves if we live in an apartment? We can't grow our food in there. Even with a house and a yard, we wouldn't product enough to feed ourselves. Local and smaller farms tend to use as much or more in energy based on the economies of scale in a production environment. In a society the size of ours or England's for which this article was written, we need that store, though maybe not the processed foods. The word that comes to my mind on this article is 'crank'. The researcher gets maximum of a 'D' grade and a whack on the back of the head with a rolled up notebook. Whack the newsreporter for writing this up as a serious and proper study too. In short, ride the bike or walk to the store and stay healthy. There's an environmental cost in everything we do but I think the researcher grossly miscalculated on this one. I'm betting he gets winded walking across the street as he seems to be suggesting a more sedentary society and lifestyle.
I could go on but my coffee cup is empty now and I must go emit some CO2 and refill it. I wonder how much carbon emissions it takes to produce a cup of coffee?

gewilli said...

there's a good big of rebuttal there about the carbon and exercising.

and the more body mass you have, the higher the basal metabolism rate. So If you are 10% thinner than you would be if you never exercised, there is a zero net gain from exercising or sitting on your ass.

The extra calories coming from beef? The bulk of a balance caloric diet should NOT be from protein anyway (according to most learned nutrition folks anyway).

thanks for sharing the link...

PoorDumbBastard said...

I think I got a bit too much caffeine yesterday. It does help me program faster though.

Anna Milkowski said...

Blog readers rock! Point about parallel inclusion of transport costs in the analysis well taken. This Brown site is great, thanks for the link. I do think though the energy costs could be included into economies of scale analysis, though, as far as environmental and social value associated with incorporation of harmful externalities? I might need to track down the original analysis. My incling is still that it's rabble-rousing, not seriously advocating a live-at-home existence.

Andrew said...

Hopefully not beating this dead horse too much. . a couple more comments:
1) I don't know much about the diets of Britons, but unless the Atkins diet is really popular, assuming that a person's caloric intake is entirely beef and milk is pretty silly.
2) In addition to all the other things mentioned, I'd add also that one should consider the land that's paved over for driving and parking and the negative effects associated (e.g. water runoff, heat absorption, etc.) and the nonCO2 emissions associated with cars (NOx SOx PM etc.).

Keep riding guilt-free.