Student’s Corner

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With the end of Halloween festivities, the lack of vibrant fall foliage (due to the storm), and dropping temperatures, it might seem like the next few weeks will be lackluster. But never fear, there are plenty of exciting, upcoming events on campus!

This week, Grassroots hosted UR Unplugged, which is a great way to get more students engaged in sustainability efforts by encouraging friendly competition. It scores campus residential areas on how much they reduce their energy usage during a given time period to that of the same building on the same dates the previous year. UR Unplugged previously won the Rochester Center for Community Leadership’s Excellence in Programming Student Life Award. The Field Day Finale is happening today, from 4-7pm in Hirst Lounge of Wilson Commons. There will be all sorts of fun interactive events and games, like hula hooping, cornhole and three-legged racing. In addition, participants are treated to free pizza, performances from many musical groups on campus and the chance to win cool prizes!

Next, students interested in seeing where their waste goes are encouraged to sign up for the Landfill Tour, which is taking place on November 16th at High Acres Landfill. Interested students or faculty should email Amy Kadrie at amy.kadrie@rochester.edu. High Acres Landfill is far from just a place where trash is dumped. The facility is a leader in renewable energy use, creating 9.6 megawatts of energy from landfill gas, which is a byproduct of waste. They are also dedicated to composting leaves and tree branches. There is even a falconer onsite, as a tool to eliminate seagull scavenging. The tour promises to be eye-opening and informative.

Finally, Dining’s Team Green is hosting a local foods week in various dining locations. Throughout the week and depending on the day, Douglass, Danforth, Eastman and Meliora Restaurant will be serving delicious and local foods, such as pierogie pizza, Salmon, Shepard’s pie, and of course, the beloved Garbage Plates. Eating local foods when available is a sustainable habit, as it requires less transportation. This means decreased fossil fuel emissions, as well as providing support for local businesses. For more information about participating locations and menus, check out the Facebook event page.

 

Written by Leslie Wolf, Class of 2015

6 Comments on “Student’s Corner

  1. Local food has taken the country by storm. But as far as I know, it has yet to make inroads into Halloween, that special occasion when we still revel in the junkiest of junk food, both as givers and takers.
    Offshore Software Company

  2. Leslie,

    I think you misunderstand my question. My questions are directly criticizing the “study” you linked to. There is quite a good deal of evidence out there, starting perhaps with this one:

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es702969f

    There is a simple economic reason for this result (and others like it). Most of the emissions related to your food are due to refrigeration and prepping (10 times more emissions from this alone than air freighting in your food); customers traveling to the stores generates between 1 and 2 orders of magnitude more emissions than the “food miles” generates; and so on), your transportation to the market, but most of all in the entire production process on the farms themselves – and it is worse the lower yielding the farms are.

    As far as the question that doesn’t have an answer – well it does have an answer and this is precisely the sort of thing we spend our time doing as economists. And this basic analytic tool tells us that we use MORE resources by forgoing the benefits of non-local food. By the definition you provide, local food is not sustainable.

    And man does not live by food miles alone. You actually make that point when you say: “This kind of argument could be made about many things, though. By making one choice, we eliminate the possibility of what could have been.”: which really all that economics is about.

    Here is a vivid illustration. Not too long ago the political class and interest groups in Seattle were close to passing legislation that promoted locally produced milk under the same argument as the report you cite above – that shipping milk long distances produces emissions of CO2 and other harmful chemicals. The problem of course is that if you grow cows locally to make milk you create two problems. One is that you displace people further away from the city which increases their transit times. But more important, you have to feed the cows and also handle the waste. The smaller of the two problems (the waste) is that it needs to be disposed of or sold or used on other farms – but there are not many nearby, because there is a city there. But the bigger of the two problems is that you must feed the cows – and how is that done? By shipping in non-local hay. The farmers involved here knew that it is very costly to ship that hay in. And in fact the emissions and mileage required to ship the hay to the cows in the city were greater than locating the cows “non-local”, where the hay is, and then shipping the milk over the mountains and back to Seattle. In other words, non-local milk was indeed sustainable milk. And in a world where prices and property are used, by producers doing what is lowest cost for them (particularly if we get tax policy right) then we’d then be doing what was most “sustainable.” This is not of course an isolated example.

    As for the darkening of our dorms – my point again is that it is not a priori clear that there is energy savings yet the post is written (just as with the food miles claim) as fact. But if we don’t even know what students did with the lights off (or when they were just using electricity) how do we know if that is good for the planet? What if a few students decided to drive their cars to NYC for a few days? I am pretty sure that just a little extra driving would undo the potential benefits from the easily observed energy savings.

    There have been some studies on Earth Hour that have claimed that the “symbolic” event actually led to an increase in energy use. So even if we recognize that it is a symbol, what is it symbolizing? That actually doing something unsustainable is OK just because our intentions were good? Imagine we tried to correct the climate change problem that way! “Sorry folks, our plan to actually quadruple how much fossil fuels we burn didn’t pan out. We thought that would save the planet. We meant well. It was a symbol that we were doing something good. But now the ambient CO2 is 600ppm. We’ll help you buy your generators and row boats.” Sounds absurd when I put it that way. But replace “burn fossil fuel” with any other program that produces unintended consequences and the observations are identical.

    Finally, little of what I am referring to has to do with direct monetary costs to farmers or consumers …

  3. -”Do students, instead of using energy in a building (particularly in an already efficient one like the LEED building), end up substituting into more harmful, unsustainable practices?”

    What sort of harmful, unsustainable practices are you asking about? I realize that lighting candles as an alternative to turning on lights is unsustainable, but I doubt that students resorted to this, especially since they are prohibited in residential dorms. Regarding EarthHour, yes, it seems like its overall impact on energy use is not substantial. Many choose to see the event as having a symbolic value. Others, of course, disagree that mere symbolic value is worth shutting down technology.

  4. -You asked, “How are the supposedly decreased transportation emissions offset by the potential added costs of the more locally grown food?”
    This is difficult to assess. Are you talking about out-of-pocket costs for the consumer? Or costs to the local famer?
    Overall, however, cost was not a consideration in my claim that eating locally is more sustainable. Buying food from local vendors can be more expensive, but I do not believe that that fact is related to the overall sustainability of the habit. Yes, it does limit the customer base, which in my mind is connected to the issue of buying organic food, in that it is supposedly the best habit, but only an option for those who can afford it. The fairness of this is certainly up for debate.

    I’m not sure that I, or anyone would have an answer for you about the prospective trade-off that growing food locally has, as by virtue of the vendors and farms existing, we will probably never know what institutions or businesses would have been there instead.
    This kind of argument could be made about many things, though. By making one choice, we eliminate the possibility of what could have been. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing, as in this case, it is food that we are talking about, which is a sustaining item. It is an interesting hypothetical, but others could be tossed back, such as if the health risks from emissions that accompany increasing food miles are worth it so that consumers can access certain foods year-round.

    Leslie

  5. You raise some interesting questions. I’ll try to address a few.
    - “Is there evidence that less transportation from non-local farms to our communities translates into sustainability?”
    Yes, there is evidence supporting this. Here is a link to emissions data from the NRDC. http://food-hub.org/files/resources/Food%20Miles.pdf. Clearly, different modes of transportation, as well as distance traveled impact total emissions. I’m sure that you’re not questioning this particular fact, as it’s pretty intuitive. I claim that eating locally is a sustainable habit, because if we define sustainability as the responsible management of resource use and reducing human impact (I realize that sustainability’s definition is somewhat open to interpretation), then buying food from non-local places as opposed to local ones is not sustainable. It uses fossil fuels that do not necessarily need to be used, and results in increased emissions that contribute to global warming. As the data sheet reports, “almost 250,000 tons of global warming gases released were attributable to imports of food products”.

    Leslie

  6. “Eating local foods when available is a sustainable habit, as it requires less transportation.”

    Is there evidence that less transportation from non-local farms to our communities translates into sustainability? What research papers is this claim relying on? What share of emissions in our food comes from the transportation from far away farms to stores? How does that compare to the emissions generated from elsewhere in the process, particularly at the retail side? How large are emissions in the storage and preparation process? How are the supposedly decreased transportation emissions offset by the potential added costs of the more locally grown food?

    Man does not live by food miles alone. In addition to the above, what are the tradeoffs involved in having food grown locally as compared to somewhere far away? Is the local food displacing a medical facility? What about the non-local food?

    Further, “It scores campus residential areas on how much they reduce their energy usage during a given time period to that of the same building on the same dates the previous year”

    This is very interesting. Do students, instead of using energy in a building (particularly in an already efficient one like the LEED building), end up substituting into more harmful, unsustainable practices? Or are we only measuring energy use in the particular building to the exclusion of everything else? For example, like lighting candles? Or driving to the movies instead of watching at home? And what do we know about whether Earth Hour actually ended up reducing energy use? I believe that is far from a settled question.

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