Be Green: Drive

When it comes to saving the environment, things are often not as simple as they seem at first blush.

Take, for instance, the debate about paper bags vs. plastic bags. For a number of years, anyone who opted for plastic bags at the grocery store risked the scorn of environmentalists. Now, it seems that the consensus has swung the other direction — once a more careful cost accounting is done.

The same sort of uncertainty hangs over the choice of disposable diapers vs. cloth diapers.

At least some choices are beyond reproach environmentally. It is clearly better for the environment to walk to the corner store rather than to drive there. Right?

Now even this seemingly obvious conclusion is being called into question by Chris Goodall via John Tierney’s blog. And Chris Goodall is no right-wing nut; he is an environmentalist and author of the book How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.

Tierney writes:

If you walk 1.5 miles, Mr. Goodall calculates, and replace those calories by drinking about a cup of milk, the greenhouse emissions connected with that milk (like methane from the dairy farm and carbon dioxide from the delivery truck) are just about equal to the emissions from a typical car making the same trip. And if there were two of you making the trip, then the car would definitely be the more planet-friendly way to go.

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  1. Phil Steinmeyer says:

    And if you hike 15 miles to the store, it’s much WORSE!

    I guess an all-milk diet, supported by frequent walks to a distant store is not very environmentally friendly. I’ll keep that in mind…

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  2. AJ says:

    What if I drank a red bull instead of milk?

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  3. Nick the Stat Guy says:

    Eat your own vegtables that you grew with your seeds you got last year when you harvested. Everything is interconnected some way, but the problem is that all of these numbers are arrived at through a process that involves multiple waves of the hand. No wonder no one can figure out the net energy for ethanol. And some crow that Hummers are more enviro-friendly than a Prius.

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  4. cpayne says:

    Mr Tierney’s overlooking the fact that some, like me, would have that milk regardless of my method of transpo for the trip.

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  5. Tim says:

    Are we just counting the emissions from the car?

    What about the carbon dioxide necessary to build the car, and deliver it to your dealership? What about the carbon used to refine the oil into gasoline, to bring the gasoline to your local gas station?

    This is of course ignoring the health benefits of walking, and the fact that you would probably have drunk the milk anyway.

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  6. Andrew says:

    Ridiculous. No one alters their eating patterns based on a walk to the store. If anything, someone walking to the store may be trying to shed a few pounds and wouldn’t intentionally replace those calories.

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  7. Dave says:

    I think this analysis may work only comparing a healthy walker vs. a healthy driver.

    However, wouldn’t someone that was willing/able to walk 1.5 miles to the corner store consume significantly less calories over a day/week/month/year/lifetime than someone who drove the distance? (This would be based on the assumption that the walker would be more likely to lead a healthy/active lifestyle consuming fewer calories than the driver, who would be more likely to lead an unhealthy/sedentary lifestyle.)

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  8. Charles says:

    Or you could just not drink milk. Or you could consider it exercise, and replenish that energy… with the same meals and drinks you’d normally consume daily regardless of your little walk.

    Seems weak to say “use a car for a simple walk” as an argument for reducing emissions, when it’s not a zero sum game like he posits.

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