Cows and Cars and Carbon – seeing the bigger picture.

We can get hung up on the tail-pipes. A new acquaintance (friend?) asked me today about carbon emissions from food systems. I made some flippant comment about cow farts and he gently corrected me (it’s their burps, y’see – 4 litres of methane a day).

As with cars, campaigners can get hung up tidying up those very point-source problems (see the tortured history of catalytic converters, air pollution etc), and lose the big picture.
With cows it would be about land-use, deforestation, the opportunity costs (what else the land and energy currently devoted to putting burgers in the mouths of rich people could be spent on), the health costs of meat and the socialised cost of coping with that).

With cars it would be about what would still be going on even if you had electric cars powered from entirely renewable resources. You’d still have the road-building and bypasses, the destruction/colonisation of public/urban space, urban sprawl, light pollution, obesity, traffic accidents etc.

In both cases, people like having these things. (1) We’ve wanted meat since we were meat for cats and hyenas, many millennia ago. We love speed (not having to bloody walk/run everywhere!) These desires are ‘natural,’ whatever that word means. What is not ‘natural’ is the vast interlocking socio-technical systems we have built to move materials around, to loot the past and the future, to provide commodities and profits in the here and now…


(1) As the anthropologists have been telling us for a very long time, consumption and ‘choices’ happen within (pre-existing but actively nurtured) thick webs of expectation, (be) longing and status games. You ignore these inconvenient facts at your peril.



About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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