March 23, 2009

Carbon Footprints, Oakland's Van Jones and Green for All

I just read a couple of terrific articles from The New Yorker. One titled Big Foot, talks about the blurring of morality and science as it relates to the rush to lower carbon footprints. Sometimes green choices are not as easy as they first appear:

"Last year, a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is actually more 'green' for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck. That is largely because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that 'the efficiencies of shipping drive a ‘green line’ all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordeaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity.'”

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The other is a profile of Oakland's Van Jones who founded the non-profit, Green For All, and was just appointed by the president to be the White House's "green jobs" adviser. The article, Greening the Ghetto, goes on to say:

"The logo of Green for All, which is based in Oakland, California, is a sun rising over a crowded cityscape. The group’s goal is to broaden the appeal of the environmental movement and, at the same time, bring jobs to poor neighborhoods. Jones often says that he is trying to 'green the ghetto.'"

"In it [his book], he argues that the best way to fight both global warming and urban poverty is by creating millions of 'green jobs'—weatherizing buildings, installing solar panels, and constructing mass-transit systems. A percentage of these jobs—Jones is purposefully vague about how many—should go to the disadvantaged and the chronically unemployed. 'The green economy should not be just about reclaiming thrown-away stuff,' he writes. 'It should be about reclaiming thrown-away communities.'"

I love this quote he gave when asked how he deals with people with differing views:

“I’m not looking for the points of difference. I’m looking for the points of commonality. I’ve trained my mind so that people can say twenty-seven things that might be objectionable, but as soon as they say one, that twenty-eighth thing, that’s in the right direction, that’s where I’m going to go in the conversation. I think that’s really important in a country as diverse as ours, to listen. So this guy, he says, I don’t want this, I don’t want that. But he says, I want everybody to be included. Well, that’s all I need.”


  1. The French/California wine comparison would appear to be lacking some important information that would be required to make the greenest buying choice. It looks like all that is being compared is transportation by truck versus by boat. Have the carbon footprints of farming in France and farming in California been compared? What if one of the bottles of wine was made from organically grown grapes?

  2. You raise a good point and I think the author recognizes this. He does mention that, "Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quantity and type of fertilizer [...]" and, surely, there are even more factors you could taken into consideration. You can really take it to the n'th degree if you want - like his peanut butter and potato examples in the article.