Notes on Progress: An environmentalist gets lunch


Key takeaways


  • The image we have in our head of the ‘environmentally-friendly meal’ is one that’s sourced from the local market; produced on an organic farm without nasty chemicals; and brought home in a paper bag, not a plastic wrapper.
  • I know that my way of eating is low-carbon. I’ve spent years poring over the data. Microwaves are the most efficient way to cook. Local food is often no better than food shipped from continents away. Organic food often has a higher carbon footprint. And packaging is a tiny fraction of a food’s environmental footprint, and often lengthens its shelf-life.
  • what is ‘good’ for the environment often doesn’t line up with our intuitions.
  • dense cities are good for the climate – we can use economies of scale to reduce emissions from transport, services, and if we’re lucky we can even share heating with our neighbours.
  • Why, then, do we often get this so wrong? It probably comes back to the ‘natural fallacy’: things that seem more grounded in ‘natural’ properties seem better to us. Or our ‘appeal to nature’, where natural equals good, and unnatural equals bad. We’re skeptical of synthetic stuff that comes out of a factory.
  • Part of the motivation for living more sustainably is feeling like you’re doing your bit. If what we ‘need’ to do is at-odds with what feels right, then that’s a problem. That means that the societal image of sustainability needs to change. Lab-grown meat, dense cities, and nuclear energy need a rebrand. These need to be some of the new emblems of a sustainable path forward.