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4:50 pm
June 27, 2012

John Symond


posts 70

Post edited 4:55 pm – June 27, 2012 by John Symond


"A quick jaunt in the SUV to fetch a few of those bananas at the grocery
store two miles down the road uses more fuel per banana than the journey of thousands of miles over the water that brought them from their tropical
home. Taking fewer trips to the grocery store, or getting there by foot,
bike, transit or carpool, has far more impact on food-system energy use than obsessing over paper versus plastic…"  Surprised

Michael Bomford  (Research Scientist, Kentucky University , Department of

Horticulture), The Post Carbon Reader, Chapter 9 (available at Amazon, as an e-book, with many contributing authors)


There is plenty of loose thinking around food-miles. Sea transport is enormously efficient over long distances and therefore environmentally benign, compared to many activities we take for granted as normal and acceptable. Confused(JS)

8:38 pm
June 27, 2012



posts 21

Here's a personal anecdote:

One of the interesting aspects of driving an electric car, is that I've finally been able to see like for like how much energy a car uses compared to your household…

When you think about the comparative energy use (of any car, petrol, electric or diesel); pushing nearly 1000kg of machine around consumes a massive amount of energy. We actually just tend not to think about it because we never have a visual reference for the fuel we are burning, its just numbers and petrol and stuff. Well for me its now on my power bill @$3 per 100km on 100% green power.  It is just a surprising amount of power!

For example:


When driving my car (any small car) on the highway

  – a car on the road consumes the same amount of power as 10 of your largest electric heaters! (AND This is a small efficient hatchback – on  your most efficient drive cycle, no SUV by any means)

  – with an hour on the road, that same power could run a 12W efficient light bulb for 83 days


If you think twice about leaving lights on in your house, then you should definitely think thrice about getting in the car to drive down to the local shops for a litre of milk!

Catch the bus, ride your bike, or use your feet. It saves heaps of energy!


If numbers make more sense to you:

In one hour a (small) car will use more than 24kWh  of power (24000 Wh) – we have energy efficient light globes at home which use 12Wh in the same period. 

One hour of car driving energy would power that light in my house for 2000 hours. Wait for it – thats over 83 days.






11:58 am
January 27, 2013



posts 60

I ride my bike to the Fyshwick markets or down to Manuka supermarkets. I drove to the CIT Woden Farmers Markets today, mostly because I can't find a safe direct route there (it's annoying there's no safe cycle path that runs parallel to Hindmarsh Drive between Fyshwick & Woden…it's ALL about the supremacy of the car). Basically, while I agree with points made so far that it's more efficient for the environment not to drive a car to the shops or to do a big shop when you do, there's always going to be people who want to access food fresh quickly…& who might not have a lot of storage for it either. For example, friends of mine live inner city Sydney, they virtually go to the markets there every second day because their flat is so small. The fruit & veg is fresh & (so I'm informed) organic…so. 

Anyway, I think the whole debate about food miles has got a bit bent out of shape. It's all well & good to be highly idealistic about these things, but we have to apply our sense as well. I think people ought to consider the impacts of having food flown in & that's certainly a function of education. This issue is only going to become more acute for Australia, when you consider only 20% of our land mass is arable & the land we do use is being degraded & it's also infertile to the extent that we import fuel partly to compensate for our lack of soil fertility. I don't say this to sound like I'm criticising the backyard vege garden movement, I've got my own compost heaps, herbs, tomatos & silverbeet growing as we speak…but I'd never be able to be self sufficient either.

I wouldn't agree that sea shipping is necessarily benign, but it may be a lot less wasteful energy wise than flight? I'm assuming, however (correct me if I'm wrong) that fruit & vegetables that we get from the US, Latin America & Asia would not be shipped here unless refrigeration were involved? I've seen our seafood literally crated onto ice & freighted by air overnight to markets in Japan & HK. That's the nature of international trade & things moving to where the prices are highest. This is our reality. 

Another part of our reality is that Australia is a vast country. Of course our bananas, pineapples & mangoes etc are going to have to travel vast distances in Australia alone before they can get to southern markets like ACT, Melbourne & Tasmania. 

I happen to believe that until people start educating themselves on the impacts of their demand for the same range of fruit & vegetables year round, we'll never knock this issue of food miles on the head. The first thing people ought to look at is a map of Australia.

If we accepted more old fashioned constraints like food seasonality, we'd be more likely to adopt a shifting range of things to eat througout the year & source more of what was 'locally' or 'regionally' available. But, we would also have to accept that might mean a much more limited diversity of diet than we currently enjoy. I've got no issues with that, just noting that people have to start being conscious of this. Too many Australians have a very patchy conception of a healthy relationship to food: which possibly accounts for our high energy, water use etc 'food miles'.

The quote above from the US is a good one for focusing on the kind of marginal considerations people need to make. I started shopping at my local IGA despite the prices being higher, because it saved me hopping in the car to get to the supermarket in Manuka. The only thing that really puts me off about my local is 'packaging'. There's too much of it on everything, plastic & polystyrene foam, but if you want fresh vegie you have to cope with this. 

We're going to have to restructure our lives, the time we dedicate to shopping, to really change the patterns of demand & consumption that leads to the purchasing & distribution systems for food we have now & which feeds into the infrastructure Australia has created.


2:45 pm
January 27, 2013



posts 263

Quetzal, I agree that we are bent out of shape with this food miles stuff.

I get a bit frustrated about how much we 'split hairs' about the smallest of things. I think cutting down on the amount of meat in a meal, or having one or two meat free days per week would make a much bigger difference than saving a few kilometres of 'food miles' by making less trips! 

Eating more of seasonal and local produce is clearly important but meat is by far the biggest food component of our ecological footprints. It's not just about the carbon, it's about how much land is needed to grow the meat or produce.


5:58 pm
January 30, 2013

John Symond


posts 70

The previous two posts show how complex all this is. We need a savagely heavy Carbon Tax precisely because these differential impacts then get factored into prices.

I have started reading "How bad are bananas?" This is great for showing the relativities of many events and activities, although it makes no attempt to be comprehensive. It was written in the UK and it is clear how place dependent all these calculations are. Oh dear! There really is no substitute for education and common sense.

People can obsess over things whose impact is slight, then do something with a 100 times greater impact with no concern. More information and education is needed. We could think about food labeling with messages like, "production and transport of this food item has required a minimum of xxx grams of co2 to be emitted into the atmosphere". This would of course be enormously difficult to do accurately, which is why I suggested "a minimum".

Packaging: I shop at my local IGA and at the Belco Markets and sometimes at Choko Bai Jo. I keep all the small transparent plastic bags from the Belco Markets and take a bag full of them with me on shopping trips to reuse them. I forget now and then, and have to get more, so I have a friend who takes my surplus bags.

11:32 pm
January 30, 2013



posts 60

I agree with all these views & particularly that this is a complex area with no 'one size fits all' solution. The nice thing about Canberra & this website in fact is that it represents how determined Canberrans are to educate themselves on these issues! 

I'm not sure I agree with the idea of a savage carbon tax. People may respond to the stick, but the carrot is always better in the end. Plus, to steal another metaphor, there's often more than one way to skin a cat.

I like the idea of consumer labelling, but it's got to be simple. There's nothing wrong with simple. Recall the digital sign that told us how much water was being used & how little was left in the dam during the drought here? Apparently that was found to be very effective in convincing Canberrans to keep water use within reasonable bounds! Similarly, when I was in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago, I was very impressed with the carbon 'savings' calculations put on the digital reader for the fast train between KL & the new centre of govt. Of course, all these measures are approximations, but they work. 

How do you choose your laundry powder, coffee, or any other consumable? I can tell you how I choose mine. I choose between 2/3 environmental brands based on a comparison of features in terms of phosphate (because I recycle my rinse water for the garden), relative price & place of manufacture. With coffee, I go for free trade/shade grown, but it often varies by location eg., E. Timor vs Latin Am or African. Recently, I discovered that one of my shampoo brands is packaged in bottles made from corn starch. I used to be able to buy corn starch garbage bags at Bunnings, but they stopped stocking them. I'm still not sure these bottles are better than recyclable plastic, but the fact is we're never sure. We are consumers, we have to be offered choices.

As to meat, again a matter for individual choice. I am vegetarian, but I couldn't force someone else to conform with my practices.

I do agree that sometimes we agonise over little things when more thoughtful decision making may indeed make a bigger difference. Ever thought about the amount of rubbish we create & dump simply by buying too many electronics? I do. I know some of my other friends do too. But what do you do when a repair man tells you, nah I can't repair that, you're better off dumping that & buying new. Sad Frown.

Here's the one thing I think all Canberrans could do that would make an immediate & vast impact. Stop selling water in plastic bottles. Our tap water is perfectly healthy. Make everyone bring a refillable & get shops to stop stocking it. I've had it with the amount of plastic rubbish I see everywhere & it serves absolutely NO social or health purpose whatsoever. Get rid of it!

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