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Light rail is the darling of the environmental community. So are buses and other forms of public/mass transit. Let us accept for now that these things make both economic and environmental sense. One reason these are popular is that even if the total amount of person-miles traveled does not change as we move away from cars and toward these systems, these systems are more efficient because they take advantage of economies of scale, and also take advantage of technologies and resources that only make sense when applied to large numbers of users.

I agree.

But why, then, do these same folks outright reject the same ideas as applied to “living locally” and to large agribusiness in general? It turns out that the fuel and transportation and environmental costs of having mass-produced crops is only a miniscule portion of the cost of producing these foodstuffs – and that the environmental costs are far smaller than they would be if we moved to smaller-scale local farming. The reasons would be obvious to any intro econ student. Mass scale farming allows us to take advantage of economies of scale in producing for larger markets, enables producers to invest in efficiency enhancing technologies that don’t make sense on a small farm, and in particular, enables crops to be grown in areas that are most amenable to growing crops. Does it really make sense to grow wheat and corn in the California desert instead of the American midwest?

Rejecting large-scale, non-local farming on environmental and economic grounds would be akin to rejecting a city bus system on the grounds that a single bus emits more CO2 than a typical car does. Find me an environmentalist who admits this contradiction. Better yet, find me one who can explain it away using science and economics and not some fuzzy, distorted notion of how big farms are evil.

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