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The Times: ‘Walking worse for environment than driving’

timesGreenbang likes the Times, but he was pretty astonished to read this piece the other day, which makes the claim that walking to the shops is more damaging than driving to the shops.

“Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes. Provided, of course, they remembered to switch off the TV rather than leaving it on standby.”

This ‘logic’ is based on the notion that food production is so energy intensive that conducting basic exercise (and thus consuming more calories) is worse than simply driving about and fetching your copy of the paper from the local newsagent. Greenbang fully appreciates there’s a lot of hot air surrounding green issues at the moment, but this is just ridiculous.

Here’s the gist of the argument:

“The sums were done by Chris Goodall, campaigning author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, based on the greenhouse gases created by intensive beef production. “Driving a typical UK car for 3 miles [4.8km] adds about 0.9 kg [2lb] of CO2 to the atmosphere,” he said, a calculation based on the Government’s official fuel emission figures. “If you walked instead, it would use about 180 calories. You’d need about 100g of beef to replace those calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as much as driving.”

Greenbang’s not an expert, but here’s some initial thoughts on this:

1. Based on our knowledge of various mates that are in, how should we say, less than optimum condition, they’re often the ones eating the most (and are usually the most carnivorous: opting for regular burgers, steaks, etc);

2. The argument that we should all sacrifice our health by cutting out all exercise may or may not help us cut CO2 emissions, but it won’t help reduce that heart attack at 40;

3. Whether or not you exercise, you still get hungry and thus still consume food, which makes Greenbang wonder how this grand saving would come about. In fact, in our experience (when trying to kill off that beer gut), a spurt of exercise is often all that’s needed to pluck up the willpower to turn down that big burger;

4. And anyway, assuming the figures are right, Greenbang’s curious as to why an environmental would choose to make the argument between driving and walking. Why not promote cycling, for example, as a way to cover larger distances with a lower rate of calorific consumption;

and 5. What a pile of smelly dribble.

Of course, Greenbang appreciates there’s a serious point here about food production and so on. But he just don’t feel that this kind of argument is very helpful in terms of convincing those people perhaps contemplating a step towards a more environmental lifestyle to get off the sofa and actually do something about it.

Oh, the days of newspapers telling people what to think are so yesterday…

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