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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Be frugal to be green?

Tyler Cowen in Slate on "Can You Really Save the Planet at the Dinner Table?":
Pollan makes much of the energy costs incurred by the long food supply chains of American grocery stores. It may look like we are eating Chilean grapes, he argues, but in fact, once we consider transportation costs, we are guzzling petroleum. Economics offers a clearer view of what is going on. We do need to save energy, but it is difficult for a central planner (or for that matter a food commentator) to identify what is waste, relative to the costs of eliminating it. We should rely on higher market prices, if need be with the assistance of taxes, to increase conservation. If fuel becomes more expensive, we'll likely adopt peak-load energy pricing, and drivers may scrap their SUVs for hybrids. But we probably won't plant grapes in our backyards. While we must conserve energy, we cut back where it makes the most sense; grape-shipping is not the place to start. Global trade does involve transportation costs, but it also puts food production where it is cheapest, again saving energy by economizing on costs of labor, irrigation, and fertilization, relative to the alternatives.
So, is simply being frugal the best way to be friendly to the environment, at first approximation (which may be the most accurate we can be)? There's some discussion at Marginal Revolution.

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