George Will

Newsweek says most food travels at least 1,200 miles to get to Americans' plates, so buying local food will save fuel. Do not order halibut in Omaha.

Speaking of Hummers, perhaps it is environmentally responsible to buy one and squash a Prius with it. The Prius hybrid is, of course, fuel-efficient. There are, however, environmental costs to mining and smelting (in Canada) 1,000 tons a year of zinc for the battery-powered second motor, and the shipping of the zinc 10,000 miles -- trailing a cloud of carbon -- to Wales for refining and then to China for turning it into the component that is then sent to a battery factory in Japan.

Opinions differ as to whether acid rain from the Canadian mining and smelting operation is killing vegetation that once absorbed carbon dioxide. But a report from CNW Marketing Research (``Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles from Concept to Disposal'') concludes that in ``dollars per lifetime mile,'' a Prius (expected life: 109,000 miles) costs $3.25, compared to $1.95 for a Hummer H3 (expected life: 207,000 miles).

The CNW report states that a hybrid makes economic and environmental sense for a purchaser living in the Los Angeles basin, where fuel costs are high and smog is worrisome. But environmental costs of the hybrid are exported from the basin.

We are urged to ``think globally and act locally,'' as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has done with proposals to reduce California's carbon dioxide emissions 25 percent by 2020. If California improbably achieves this, at a cost not yet computed, it will have reduced global greenhouse-gas emissions 0.3 percent. The question is:

Suppose the costs over a decade of trying to achieve a local goal are significant. And suppose the positive impact on the globe's temperature is insignificant -- and much less than, say, the negative impact of one year's increase in the number of vehicles in one country (e.g., India). If so, are people who recommend such things thinking globally but not clearly?


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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