This blog was originally published on July 3rd, 2019.
Fourth of July, the national celebration of combustion, presents an opportunity for atonement…. Maybe an Independence Day meal of pan-fried potatoes and grilled peaches seems un-American. But the tradition of backyard grilling isn’t exactly Jeffersonian in pedigree.
Brian Palmer, “Fire Up the Grill, Not the Atmosphere.” New York Times, June 29, 2011.
That was the New York Times then. Here is the latest:
“The barbecue season has arrived,” stated Eduardo Garcia at the Times’s Climate Fwd blogsite earlier this summer. Amid the good food and drink, he confesses, “I couldn’t help thinking about the smoke that came from my friend’s charcoal grill.”
Garcia explains in “Plan a Climate Friendly Cookout”:
Does that smoke contain high levels of greenhouse gases? …. [Expert Eric Johnson] said charcoal grills typically generate three times as much greenhouse emissions than gas for the same cooking job…. He found that a typical charcoal grilling session emits as much carbon dioxide as driving a car for roughly 26 miles.
That may not sound like a lot. But, consider the fact that approximately 90 million Americans own a charcoal grill. “These things add up in the end,” Mr. Johnson said.
Yes, our everyday, self-interested activities “add up.” But carbon dioxide (CO2) is the gas of life—and a gas of pleasure when it comes to smoked meats because of superior flavor and a better sear.
Garcia has more concern:
Not all charcoal comes from renewable resources, and the accelerants that are often used to start a charcoal fire are usually made of fossil fuels.
Organizing an environmentally friendly barbecue is also about serving food and drinks in compostable or reusable plates and cups, reducing food waste by planning ahead and favoring grilled vegetables over meat.
Is there anything the eco-authorities-qua-authoritarians leave alone? The NYT series promotes carbon guilt in all sorts of other ways, from how you wash your car (not by hand) to how to green your lawn (reduce it!) to how to boil water (not sure, “be vigilant”).
Drive a car? Roll down the windows even in the heat, consider driving no more than 60 on the highway, and “consider walking, biking or taking the bus when feasible.”
What are you eating in reference to climate change? “A lot of home cooks have been left paralyzed at the stove or in the marketplace,” notes Times Food editor Sam Sifton,
… choosing between the farmed salmon and the pasture-raised chicken, the organic tofu, the fair-trade coffee, the heritage carrots. Which is best or safest for the environment? Which hurts it the least? What, in general, are we supposed to buy and cook, if we want to help reduce our carbon footprints, the carbon footprints of our nation, our world?
Tik Root of the Times complains that “many animal products have an outsize environmental footprint.” Beef is the worst, but second, surprisingly, is dairy products, even ahead of pork and chicken. Are you prepared to try oak milk, pea milk, yellow-split-pea yogurt?
How about your morning cup of coffee? Bad news according to Root: “There’s deforestation to grow more beans, the shipping emissions that come from moving them to market and the resources that go into packaging.” So skip the pods. Don’t use a filter. “Best yet,” he adds, “try cold brew.”
How about roses for that special occasion? Bad for the climate again, according to the Times. Growing them is “a thirsty, pesticide-heavy endeavor.” This perishable requires refrigeration. Greenhouses are a big no-no for their energy use. So maybe just skip Valentine’s Day “to show the planet a little love too.”
Carbon guilt and eco-snooping is international too. In Sweden, the “flight shame” movement tries to get people to take the train or bus for long trips, as if time and convenience do not matter.
More Regulation in Waiting
What is worrisome is that the lifestyle busy-bodies would happily use government means to reach your store, pantry, and refrigerator. The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project calculates that the average American needs to reduce his or her annual “carbon footprint” from today’s 18.3 tons to 1.9 tons by 2050 as part of the global effort to limit the estimated anthropogenic temperature rise to 2˚C or less.
In this regard, Columbia University’s Earth Institute has “the 35 easiest ways” to begin such a reduction, ranging from meatless days to buying vintage/recycled cloths to No. 35: “vote!” and “let your representative know you want them to take action to phase out fossil fuels use and decarbonize the country as fast as possible.”
Alternatively, David Roberts argues at Vox, “just don’t be rich.” He notes, “Climate change simply does not fit well in the individual-choices frame,” suggesting a personal market failure that needs more government to correct. Since the “very ones whose choices matter most seem least inclined to cut back on consumption,”
The obvious and most direct approach to addressing the role of individual choices in climate change is to tax the consumptive choices of the wealthy. For now, and for the foreseeable future, carbon emissions rise with wealth. Redistributing wealth down the income scale, ceteris paribus, reduces lifestyle emissions.
In a free society, personal choices are made for reasons of health, safety, convenience, quality, and affordability. Time is as important as dollars. Quality is valued over lesser substitutes. Self-sacrifice for some other person’s notion of good is not very motivating.
When grilling this special week, go for the gusto. Charcoal is fine, and don’t forget the taste from smoke using wood chips such as oak, hickory, maple, pecan, and mesquite. There is plenty of energy; and the climate will not notice and is otherwise not in peril.