Consumption


At this point, I remain skeptical that sustainable seafood actually can exist at present time given the overwhelming pressures placed on the world’s oceans.  Though perhaps very saavy aquaculture coupled with limited fishing and marine reserves can lead to a future with sustainable seafood from farming and wild sources.  Monterey Bay Aquarium’s (MBA) Seafood Watch program has long been the standard for choosing sustainable seafood, and its pocket guides have been common for some time.  The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) is now getting into the mix with its own Sustainable Seafood Initiative that employs a “Responsibly Harversted” logo and its own seafood guide, which both promote seafood in the Gulf of Maine.  What perplexes me is that the GMRI guide lists seafood “local” to the Gulf of Maine and encourages its purchase, but also uses the term sustainable….What is odd is that many local choices on the list are not sustainable, as least as defined by MBA’s Northeast Guide or me (e.g., sharks, tuna, cod) and others (read the book “Four Fish”).  So the question is, can fish be considered to be harvested sustainably by individuals if in the aggregate said fish is harvested unsustainably?

UPDATE: Based on a facebook response, I would add the following:  I’m taking issue with the GMRI Guide, not the Responsibly Harvested Label. But, if only 4 seafood items (Haddock, Northern Shrimp, American Lobster, and Cod) make the label, why create a guide that gives the impression that all “local” seafood is sustainable?  There are two things going on here: (1) the guide arguably conflates sustainability and local, and, thus, (2) as other labels do, raises a question as to the appropriate definition of sustainability (local? sustainable by what standards?). You could argue, for example, that all lawful fishing is sustainable because it conforms with scientific management practices of the federal government.  This definitional problem is further illustrated by Atlantic Cod, which can receive the Responsibly Harvested Label by GMRI but is on MBA’s Avoid List.  So, if I want to eat “sustainably,” can I eat cod?

UPDATE 2: I should also reiterate my most basic rhetorical question: “Is there such a thing as sustainable wild seafood?”

Most food/ag gurus I know are generally supportive of farm raising tilapia given the perceived lower environmental foodprint of the fish, its use as a sustainable ag tool especially in the developing world, and the ability to more effieciently create a protein source.  Here’s a the flip side argument.

Vermont Law School Professor Jason Czarnezki has a new book called “Everyday Environmentalism”.   To see the video click here.

I’m becoming increasingly sympathetic and more understanding of the types of argument made in an article in Newsweek entitled “Divided We Eat” (where Michael Pollan is quoted as making the statement used in the subject of this post).  The article argues that a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and grains is becoming less affordable to most Americans.  One certainly sees that high-calorie mass produced foods are increasing in price at lower rates than healthier foods, and many healthy foods (e.g., good produce) is not available in many poor urban neighborhoods.  In addition, it is true that having an organic locavore diet is becoming a sign of being of higher socio-economic status.  I do think the article undervalues the importance of food literacy (e.g., knowing where your food comes from, how to cook, and what is healthy), underestimates the power of marketing for unhealthy industrial food, and does not address whether eating healthy with better coventional ingredients could be affordable when cooking as opposed to buying prepared foods.  Finally, I am becoming fascinated of late with price (i.e., how can we all afford healthy local low-input food) and choice (i.e., why are we spending so much less of our income on food).   At the end of the day, I think the locavore and organic movements are good, but we can’t lose sight of wider social justice concerns like hunger and food insecurity.  Locals should be able to afford local food, and everyone should have access to fresh raw fruits and vegetables, and healthy dry grains.

Green reports that the InterAcademy Medical Panel is urging a low-carbon diet and lifestyle.  This should come as no surprise, but perhaps is long overdue.  Many things that are ‘low-carbon’ are much healthier than the alternatives (and both healthier for your personal biology and the environment).  Examples abound: red meat v. chicken, chicken v. vegetable, walk v. drive, etc.  Sometimes the choices aren’t so clear.

Sweden, with it’s new dietary guidelines that take the environment into account, is on the cutting edge.  These recommendations have been suggested for a whole host of environmental reasons in addition to acknowledged health benefits.  For example, the guidelines account for the high climate impact of beef due to methane released in cattle digestion, the depletion of many fish stocks, the energy-heavy refrigerated transport required by delicate fruits and vegetables,  the fact that fiber-rich root vegetables are more likely to be grown outdoors than in greenhouses requiring fossil fuels, that water-soaked rice fields produce more greenhouse gases than potato farms, that oil palms are often cultivated on former rainforest lands, and even the high carbon footprint of plastic water bottles.

In the article “Importing Coal, China Burns It as Others Stop,” the Times reports:

Even as developed countries close or limit the construction of coal-fired power plants out of concern over pollution and climate-warming emissions, coal has found a rapidly expanding market elsewhere: Asia, particularly China.

I just finished my talk on “Climate Policy and US-China Relations” in downtown Salt Lake City.  I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of discussing climate change at a law firm in Utah.  All in all it went OK, and the view of the mountains from the 22nd floor offices of Holland & Hart was absolutely spectacular.   I had anticipated at least one climate skeptic and had prepared a response but no such questions arose.  Instead most folks seems interested in (1) my argument that the Chinese have accepted a cold and Darwinist reality that only economic powers will have the resources to adapt to climate change and thus China sees no need to curb their emissions or limit economic growth, and (2) whether China, and the U.S., are actively preparing climate adaptation measures and projects.

All is all, I’m very much enjoying my time at the University of Utah and the Stegner Center.  It’s great to meet environmental law professors at another school, and I’ve been able to catch up with some old friends as well.

Greenwire is reporting that “[t]he leading candidate to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today boosted his conservative credentials, laying out a plan to cut federal government spending levels including freezing programs that support energy efficiency retrofits in homes and efficiency labeling for appliances.”  This is unfortunate given the continued democratization of carbon emissions and the need to make such sources more energy efficient (e.g., homes, cars), and the need to influence individual behavior that impacts the envirionments by providing consumers with better information (e.g., eco-labeling, Energy Star labeling).

I have been chosen as the 2010 Stegner Center Distinguished Young Scholar.  See here (page 8).  The announcement is here about my CLE presentation in Salt Lake City on ‘Climate Policy and U.S.-China Relations’ on Nov. 17.  I’ll also be presenting on ‘The Environment, Law, and Food’ on Nov. 16 at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law next week as well.  See schedules here.

Two issues that make me nervous were blogged about on the NY Times Green Blog today.

(1) Fracking and its impact on groundwater, and exemption from the Clean Water Act.

(2) The energy demands of China.  The IEA is predicting that “that Chinese energy demand will soar 75 percent by 2035, accounting for more than a third of total global consumption growth. While China today accounts for 17 percent of the world demand for energy, it should account for 22 percent in 25 years, while India and other developing countries will also expand their energy use.”

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