Fossil Fuelled Food*

August 02, 2019

Fossil Fuelled Food*

“How can I help you today?”

“Hi, I’ll have these oranges thanks.”

“No worries, that’ll be $7.50. Would you like to pay an extra $32.75 to carbon offset the production of your fruit?”

“Wow, really?”

“Yes and would you like to pay $1.50 to carbon offset the shipping of your fruit? They were grown in California.”

“Yeah... that’s fine...” 

“And lastly, do you want to join our Food Waste Loyalty Program? It’s a $10 monthly fee that offsets your wasting 35% of what you’re buying, so handy!” 

“Why are there so many extra costs?”


When two worlds collide: Food and the climate emergency.

Does our food have a connection to rising sea levels? Yes, unfortunately it does. While each individual piece of fruit or vegetable has a small footprint on the planet, when we add it up, we get a much bigger footprint. A footprint that ranks as the second largest Greenhouse Gas emitter in the world.**

The forecasts aren’t looking good either. 

The global food system’s GHG emissions are expected to increase by between 50-90% by 2050. We are producing food in an unsustainable way, yet people are still going hungry. Pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere appears to be one of the food system’s best kept dirty secrets.

Over 30% of total global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the globalised food and agriculture industry.

But where exactly is this carbon footprint of production coming from? 

The best way to explain this is to use the life cycle of a Californian orange: Starting with seeds and ending with food disposal.

Below is a list of the different stages of food production. The percentage shows how each stage is weighted, based on its impact:

Nursery / tree establishment: 1-5%

Production: 20%

Harvesting / Grading / Packaging: 5-10%

Shipping & Distribution: 35%

Disposal: 35%

The highest emitting activities across each stage is production, shipping and distribution, and food waste. There's a heavy reliance on coal and natural gas in big food producing areas like the US, India and China. Food isn’t all Masterchef and Gourmet Traveller, there is a dark underbelly of fossil fuels.

But it doesn’t stop there.

When we look at the carbon footprint of an orange over its lifetime, the production impact is only the beginning. Its distribution (from farmgate to shipping container to your home) plays a huge part in its carbon footprint. Once it leaves California’s shores, its carbon footprint has doubled. The more often you buy imported produce, the higher your footprint. This does not mean we should no longer buy oranges (although finding sources of Vitamin C that are endemic to Australia would be great). It’s about looking to local and regional options, investing in farmers who use regenerative and agro-ecological methods, and reducing waste by using the whole orange (did you know orange skins make great cleaning products?), and composting what you don’t use.

While the supermarkets need to work fast to reduce their carbon emissions and ensure energy efficiency across their supply chains, we also have a role to play. Here are a few ideas to reduce your personal carbon footprint when it comes to food:

  • Buy local
  • Eat with the seasons
  • Use the whole fruit / vegetable - skins hold a lot of nutrition, so toss that potato peeler and scrub the dirt off
  • Compost your food waste - if you live in an apartment, lobby your body corporate or use one of the growing community compost facilities in Brisbane. 

“Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change.” - David Attenborough

The realisation of the climate emergency is finally gaining momentum around the world. The very first World Climate Conference happened in 1979 in Geneva. The scientific community has known about this for a long time and tried in vain to communicate about it to the public. Now, 40 years later, the world is finally starting to wake up.

But we are running out of time. 

We have limited time to reverse the enormous damage we have inflicted our own planet.

“Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50%.” - Greta Thunberg, April 2019

We can support regenerative farmers. We can eat seasonally. And most importantly, we can make an informed decision to stop buying food from ‘anywhere’, and start buying from farmers closer to where you live - if not for reducing food miles, but for creating a resilient local economy.

We can do this!



* This blog was inspired by sustainable fashion activitist and entrepreneur, Edda Hamar


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