Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 17: Drinking Greener Wine

National Geographic created a great graphic recently revealing that the carbon footprint of California wine bought on the East Coast has a much larger carbon footprint than buying wine from France, Chile, or Australia. Why? Delivery by boat, even from the other side of the world, is much more fuel efficient than delivery by truck from the West Coast. (I don't have a Nat Geo link, but here's the graphic on Dr. Vino's website.)

This drove Megan to quit drinking the cheap $3 Walmart wine that we had been buying. The best local alternative she found was NC-produced Childress red table wine for $8 per bottle. However, after doing a little math, I realized that with the extra $5, I could do a lot more to save the planet.

The National Geographic articles claims that 4.4 pounds of CO2 per bottle are emitted when bringing from Napa Valley to my local grocer. How much would I have to pay to offset that? Two different sites, the Sierra Club-endorsed TerraPass.com and CarbonFund.org, led me to similar results.

TerraPass.org's family plan for 60,000 lbs of offset was $369 or $0.006 per pound. CarbondFund.org's offset of 11,000 lbs was $50 or $0.004 per pound.

Thus, I could spend just $0.02 per bottle of wine to offset its transportation carbon emissions. If I go back to buying Walmart wine for $3 per bottle, pay $1 per bottle to offset worldwide carbon emissions, keep another $4 in my pocket, and have a global carbon footprint that is 50 less than Megan's "buy local wine" solution.

That's a "Win-Win" in my book!

Megan's Response
Ok, there is so much wrong with that posting I cannot stand it. I will enumerate your logical errors as follows:

1. Walmart? Really? You think buying $0.02 worth of offsets is like hitting the giant UNDO button on that travesty? Just walking into that din of noise with the televisions on full blast and the incessant made-in-China consumerism adds multiple stress dollars onto the cost of anything that they sell. Here are some facts about how Walmart externalizes their true costs of selling things so cheaply.

2. Offsets? Yes, offsets are great! But they're only buying indulgences for a single sin: carbon emissions. Maybe they work, maybe they don't. But what about all the other costs you've externalized in this transaction? The grapes were grown with all manner of pesticides, the water was diverted from other perhaps more important crops, the labor of the pickers is maintained with questionable practices. Ugh.

3. Now this is an important one to me: What about supporting our local living economy? Yeah, if I'm at the grocery store, I'll pick up some NC wine, like Childress because it's nice and goes with everything, and tastes very smooth (even if the bottle design is a little tacky). But what about when we support vineyards right here in our own county!? Remember when we went out to Grove winery? (Cue romantic music and pictures from YOUR OWN PHOTO SET.) If I buy from Grove or Iron Gate or any of the Haw River wineries, those are right here in our OWN backyard. I can go to the vineyard, talk to the owners, taste what they're making, and meet people and build community. That's worth more than your "donation" to some faceless corporation selling what is essentially "get out of guilt free" offsets.

4. Finally. Walmart wine sucks. It tastes like it's been on the back of a truck for 3,000 miles, because it has. It's fine for $3 wine, but when you add in the cost of everything that it stands for and all the costs you've externalized to get it for $3, there's NO comparison to something real and local and good.


Tony's Response to Megan's Response
1. People change and, in this case, companies can change. Walmart launched a new program to label green products just this year!

2. I agree that I am skeptical of the carbon offset approach. Here is a list to the third-party reviewers for the TerraPass-funded projects. Also, how much would I have to pay to offset these "externalities" that you speak of?

3. Grove Winery isn't even available at Lowes Foods. Do we need to make a special trip just to pick up a bottle of wine?

4. Wine critics do not agree with and, in fact, Walmart's Oak Leaf wines have won gold medals.


Megan's Response to Tony's Response to Megan's Response

1. Greenwashing a couple of signs ("look buy this, it's green") isn't really the point here.

2. Easy answer: How about $8 per bottle?

3. What's wrong with making a special trip? When did special become bad?

4. The chardonnay was the one that won the gold medal prize in the Florida State competition (?!?), and you don't buy that. Yours won a bronze in San Francisco. Here is an academic paper questioning the entire concept of award-winning wines and pointing out some rather obvious statistical facts about winning a prize.

The Family Consensus:
It became clear as we discussed this posting, that the easiest solution for pocket and planet was just to not drink wine! Or to only drink wine on special occasions and then buy the stuff that's good and local. Tony admitted that he probably wouldn't actually take the time to buy the offsets for the wine, and Megan admitted that at $2 per glass, her local wine was the real "indulgence" in this debate. We've decided to drink herbal tea and call it a draw. Well we'll see how long that lasts!!

Pocket: 3 Planet: 3 Win-Win: 11

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