Contrarian Idiocy

A friend passed on this link to me of a post by a Cato commentator. He’s arguing that buying local food is, counterintuitively, not such a great thing for the environment.

Here’s his main logical technique:

A tomato raised in a heated greenhouse next door can be more carbon-intensive than one shipped halfway across the globe.

Right. By the same logic, trees grown locally that are used to make clubs to kill children are worse for child welfare than ones grown by child slaves. Indeed, people can do terrible, environmentally irresponsible things locally that outweigh the benefits of having done them locally.

But: doing agriculture locally brings all those effects close to home. When agriculture is being done in your backyard, all of a sudden you notice the methane gas produced by feed lots, the erosion caused by poor soil use, and the run-off from poisonous fertilizers. It’s a lot harder to do bad agriculture locally than it is to do it somewhere far away, where it’s actually performed by little brown people whose cancers matter to us less than our own. In fact, the grow-local farmers I know are moving closer to biodynamic practices that only grow foods in the correct seasons, anyway. No heated tomatoes.

These seemingly sensical counter-intuitive arguments are a technique; they are not information. They are devised to reframe and trivialize the debate. You’ll find them created to argue against progressive taxation, against addressing climate change, and against almost anything that challenge the illogical logic of the market.

My point: When reading a counterintuitive argument, check the logic first.