Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Food

Whether and how to address non-carbon GHG emissions will be an issue at Copenhagen. Emissions associated with food production and consumption will figure among them.

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Proper estimation of GHG  from food production and consumption is notoriously complicated: livestock emit methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide; commercial meat production is disproportionately grain-intensive, and so the more meat is eaten, the greater the climate burden in terms of fertilizer and fuel inputs; finished food products, whether meat or grain, have to be transported, packaged, and sold, involving still further burdens. Several years ago,  a University of Chicago study found that in a typical household, GHG emissions connected with food can be as important as those associated with the home's car or cars.

A new report in World Watch Magazine argues that a previous study done under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization radically underestimated the emissions from meat and poultry production. The FAO estimated in 2006 that such emissions amount to about 18 percent of total world GHG emissions; but World Watch puts them at 51 percent.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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