The Dernogalizer

January 25, 2009

Follow up to “Solutions to a Green Economy”

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 1:17 am
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I got a good question from a reader Gene in regards to a cross post I did for a nonprofit Green America titled ” Solutions to a Green Economy” (see here) which proposed how we can promote more sustainable economic growth and sustainable living at the same time. One of the suggestions involved local and community gardens so that we grow our food in a way that reduces it’s impact on the planet. For example, when we have to ship our food from far away it takes a lot of energy to get the food from point A to point B. If the food were to travel a shorter distance, we would dramatically reduce energy consumption. Also, when oil prices rise again, if the price of our food is less impacted by energy prices then people won’t see their food prices rise as much as they would if it were shipped from far away.

The point Gene makes is that while this might work for some small towns and places with a lot of arable land, what about large metropolitan areas such as New York and L.A. with large populations and towering skyscrapers? Before I answer his question I want to first be sure to say that my answer might not be the same as Green America’s.

The first thing I wanted to state is that at least for me, whenever I’m talking about a big change or shift, I usually have a gradual change in mind. For example, when I say we need to end our burning of coal, I’m well aware that we can’t end it tomorrow, or next year. What we can do is put in place a set of policies that allow us to move away from the energy source as quickly and reasonably as possible. This applies to the metropolitan areas in the sense that I don’t think Green America is saying that starting tomorrow everyone is going to start relying on locally grown food. Instead, how about starting tomorrow everyone should start looking at how personally and politically we can start a shift towards a greater dependence and emphasis on locally grown good?

Another important point is that these proposals aren’t “all or nothing” for every single place. I feel the attitude is more “do the best that you can with what you’ve got”. For example, one change my family is close to making is installing solar panels on our roof. However, because of where we live and how large our roof is, we can’t power our entire house from the sun. However, we can draw some of our power from the sun and reduce our impact as best we can. Just because the entire house can’t be powered by the sun doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort. The reason this applies to large metropolitan areas is that perhaps community gardens and locally grown food can’t feed the entire population of NY city. What if they could feed 20%? We should still focus on how we supply that 20% with locally grown food. Overall, I think the general idea is that our communities and our cities large or small should do the best they can with what they’ve got to reduce the ecological impact of the food they eat.

All of these being said, I also don’t want to give the idea that I’m underestimating our ingenuity and our ability to find ways to increase the amount of food we grow locally wherever we are. For example, there’s a great tool anyone can use at local harvest.org to find out where the locally grown food is around them. If you check an area such as New York, you’d be surprised how much local food is being grown and is already accessible. Here’s an example.  If I moved to New York tomorrow and I wanted to reduce the impact of the food I eat I could go onto the site and find places to buy locally. Also, another interesting solution can be found here, where the NY Times did a story on how companies and businesses are making the option of locally grown food more of a reality.

But what else can we do? How about some innovation? Architects have been having fun drawing up exactly what eating more locally grown food would look like in one of these large cities. They certainly have some interesting ideas. Of course an idea is only an idea, but we have been getting pretty good at growing things in unusual places. One thing that’s spreading like wildfire is a concept called Green Roofs where we’re growing plants on top of buildings. Not only is this a solution for Storm water Management, but they block the sun from hitting the building, cooling it and reducing the need for air conditioning on warm days. This kind of concept is the one that I think we could tailor to grow food locally in even the unlikeliest of places.

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