Monday, December 15, 2008

Air Emissions

Just a short post that might further the conversation on Susan's last post:

Let's suppose that existing production levels could be achieved through a different model. And let's call that model a small farm. Let's further suppose that those small farms are the quaint ideal that many people think of when they think of farms and farmers. With something like air pollution, is there an argument that the emissions are as problematic on a decentralized basis as they are on a concentrated basis? If so, then there is no choice at all; the industry (and I don't mean that in the big/better sense) should be regulated. I see two problems with that:

1) Internalizing that cost may itself lead to concentrated production if there is some efficiency with scale (recalibrated for this cost). And if all emissions are dangerous, it wouldn't be coherent to exempt the small to counteract this advantage.

2) Implementation would be very difficult. That is, concentrated production is a benefit when it comes to monitoring and compliance. For instance, two million coal fired power plants would be difficult to permit.

Of course, it may be that production levels cannot be maintained (as blasphemous as that is to the agrarian creed). If production decreases and the decentralized model takes root (though I don't think it would, given #1), then the air benefits from decreased emissions. So maybe the question is, do we need this food given its cost?

But maybe another of my premises is wrong: are air emissions at concentrated facilities different than air emissions from Grandpa's farm?


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