A recent article in The Guardian, titled “Is eating local produce actually better for the planet?” correctly concludes that the “eating local” trend actually doesn’t necessarily decrease food related carbon dioxide emissions. In some cases, choosing local produce may increase emissions.
The article’s author, Cecilia Nowell, briefly describes the history of the “locavore” movement – people who advocate for eating food produced within a hundred miles of where you live. She then points out that while most Americans believe that eating local is more environmentally conscious, recently “a series of studies have shown that eating locally might not be as environmentally impactful – in and of itself – as advocates once hoped.”
Nowell explains that the amount of CO2 emissions involved in the transportation of food actually is the smallest share, that production itself makes up the bulk of emissions.
“In a 2018 paper, a team of researchers from the UK and Switzerland found that only 1% to 9% of food’s emissions come from packaging, transport, and retail,” wrote Nowell. “The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions – 61% – come during production, while food is still on the farm.”
Climate Realism writer H. Sterling Burnett previously made this point in, “Thanks, WBUR, For Explaining “Eating Local” Has No Impact on Climate Change.”
In that post, Burnett explains that while there may be other benefits to eating local produce, stopping climate change is not one of them, writing “the distance food travels to get to peoples’ plates, from the perspective of having a climate impact, matters less than how the food is produced and how it was transported.”
Nowell points out that it is just not feasible for all people to eat only locally sourced food, but puzzlingly does go on to discourage the use of “fossil fuel-rich” pesticides and fertilizers—two innovations that have produced a more abundant, less expensive food supply, while reducing land devoted to agriculture.
Organic farms require more land to produce the same yields as conventional farms. Research from the Alliance for Science showed that if all agriculture were to be done using organic practices, it would lead to an increase of 8-15 percent in deforestation around the world. To banish nitrogen fertilizers would mean half the world’s population would starve.
Swedish researchers found that organic produce grown in the country actually has up to a 70 percent larger “climate impact” than conventional farming methods.
There is nothing wrong with eating locally or home-grown produce, and no reason to stop doing it. To claim it as some kind of climate victory is factually incorrect, as The Guardian accurately notes despite being sponsored by the “11th Hour Project,” which gives grants to groups that share the goals of “challenging the development of fossil fuels and accelerating transformation towards a clean and equitable energy system” and “equitable” agriculture programs, along with other progressive causes.