Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The sofritas solution

I have a blogging theory in need of a good name, that all blogs eventually deteriorate into discussions of the authors' pets or meals. Eli and John have done a terrible job of validating my theory, which leaves the degeneration to me. I don't have pets, assuming you discount the salamanders that moved into our worm composting bin six years ago and are still there. I think I've verified them to be arboreal salamanders, a pretty cool type that doesn't bother with lungs or a tadpole stage and can climb buildings. Still, not a pet.

So that leaves the sofritas vegetarian meals I've been ordering at our local Chipotle Mexican restaurant. I've not talked too much about personal steps to limit climate change impacts, partly because it's not my main interest and partly because I'm hardly a world-leading example. Still, I'm not impressed with the contempt dripping from statements like "changing a light bulb won't fix global warming." It sure is part of the fix, and personal action should be one of the steps that climate activists take.

I'm not a vegetarian, love the taste of meat, and feel better on low-carb diets that are easier when they're non-vegetarian. Despite that, vegetarianism is generally (maybe not always) a better thing for the climate and should be encouraged, especially as the whole world gets richer. When it's easy to make a switch, just do it.

So if you have a Chipotle restaurant in your area and they've added sofritas to the menu, you should try it. Sofritas is an annoying made-up word for shredded tofu mixed with other ingredients, and it has a chewy texture that makes it competitive with meat (speaking as a meat-eater). If more non-meat options were this easy, I'd do a lot better on the personal level.


Andrew Dodds said...

Ok, I'll nibble..

The problem I have with the 'many small things' approach is that, fundamentally, it doesn't work..

There is a straightforward economic problem to it - Jevon's paradox or variants thereof - if I (or more realistically 20% of the population of the country) stop eating meat, then meat becomes cheaper, and even if consumption of the other 80% is unaffected, exports will be cheaper. And in a world where most inhabitants want to get as much meat as they can afford, this means that overall consumption will stay pretty much the same.

Similar problems apply in things like fuel economy.. the better the fuel economy of my car, the less financial sense public transport makes - especially because the fixed costs of the car don't change. And generally, the less it costs to fuel up [through greater economy] the less economic sense it makes to invest in using no fuel at all.

The place to stop CO2 emissions is at the source. Which might mean a complete, global replacement of coal fired electricity with nuclear plants, direct synthesis of liquid and gaseous fuels (from off-peak electricity, which is likely to be abundant in a nuclear/renewable powered world) and at a more detailed level electrolytic hydrogen for ammonia, electrolytic steel, etc..

Note that the more fungible the fuel, the more the actions required are global, to avoid the issues caused by the inevitable collapse in price of that fuel. If the US and EU stopped using oil tomorrow, it'd be about $5 a barrel overnight.. for a few years, until the rest of the world 'took up the slack'.

If we are going to invest money to tackle global warming - which would seem sensible enough given the alternatives - then the objective should be to reduce emissions to zero. Trying to individually knock emissions down by a few dozen percent whilst ignoring the inevitable economic knock-on effects is insufficient - perhaps delaying global warming by a decade at most.

EliRabett said...

Jevron's paradox is over-rated. Think of it as the dead ball bounce, which never completely reaches the original height

Andrew Dodds said...

Indeed - although for oil at least, it's a global problem, not a local-US one. Generally speaking, there are factors in developed countries that independently restrict car-miles, thus limiting the Jevon's paradox problem (as long as oil use for electricity remains uneconomic, anyway); these factors do not apply as much to other economies where fuel costs may be far more of a limiting factor in total use.

This does still mean that overall use will drop.. but the ball bounces higher than the study suggests.

Florifulgurator said...

Jevons' paradox is indeed over-rated. What seems under-rated is simple self-respect (or, for the sophisticated, virtue ethics and eudaemonia). I changed my light bulbs out of self-respect. Plus, protest. I avoid peeing into a flush toilet, that epitome of insanity, and practise protest-peeing at trees and shrubs. For I hate being a Late Homo S "Sapiens", i.e. an obscene stupid pig. (Sorry, pigs, no insult intended. I know you can keep your place tidy and even rejoice in using your brain.)

badger badger badger said...

Isn't part of the idea of a carbon tax to tip cost incentives towards many small things?

Anonymous said...

"vegetarianism is generally (maybe not always) a better thing for the climate and should be encouraged,"

Anyone who electively encourages everything they think better for what they chose to reify deserves an occasional salamander taco, and an extra helping of iguana mole' on their birthday.


Hank Roberts said...

Exchanges of value used to stay mostly local; people 'invested' in their 'community' because that's how life worked; it was damn hard to package value for safe lossless transportation, whether perishable products or portable valuables.

Nowadays, it'd damn hard to put your money where your lifetime is; the stuff just moves away, out of reach, toward higher concentrations of money.

There's something wrong about that.

Hank Roberts said...

> tofu ... chewy

Take a block of tofu (actually two to four of them for economy of oven use); cut in half through the widest plane to make thinner pieces. Place those between two cutting boards (white HDPE works).

Put one edge over the side of the sink and tip the assembly that way.

Clamp (we used a couple of huge C-clamps from the woodshop, but putting something under one end of the bottom then putting your weight set, dictionaries, or a few sacks of flour on the top does the same.

That presses a lot of water out giving a dense white tofu, reminiscent of, welll, caulk.

Cut that into thinnish rectangles (about the thickness of a pencil, about an inch or so long).

Put them in a dish, cover with something tasty as a marinade.

We've used rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, low-salt soy sauce, vegetable bouillon goop; maybe throw a handful of good mushrooms into a blender and add that.

Let steep, maybe shake the container a few times, overnight.

Next day, use a slotted spatula to take the tofu out. Save the marinade, you can use it twice.

Bake on flat baking sheet at 375F for an hour, turning once (it'll take some scraping to flip them if they're on a metal baking sheet, unless you have parchment paper or one of those silicone baking mats) (a pizza baking whatchamacallit might work).

Turn the heat down to 425 for another 15-20 minutes if the tofu is still too wet inside.

Toasty, tasty, meat substitute.

We both lost 40 pounds in the past year, since our niece convinced us to try eating mostly vegan and cutting out adding oil. We'll eat anything set before us outside the house, but we don't buy meat, or cheese, or ice cream, or lard, or oil, or nuts, for home use.

That's all it takes. Surprise: steamed greens taste good and really fill you up:

The cat still gets meat. Obligate carnivore, can't change that.

Hank Roberts said...

Oops. Arrow of time direction wrong. Start at 425F, finish at 375F.

John Mashey said...

Tofu is amazingly useful, and CO2 reduction is like improving computer performance - the total improvement = a few big ones plus large numbers of little ones.

But, for lovers of tofu, I truly recommend a movie I first saw in China that had me laughing uncontrollably, Wing Chun.
"Miss Soya Bean Curd" plays an important role, but beyond priceless is the best tofu kung fu scene I know.*
Michelle Yeoh proves her skills by defending a large block of tofu against attack of local tough guy recruited to put her in her place.

The movie is filled with sly humor that misogynists may fail to appreciate.

* Well, it is the only such I know.

Ed Darrell said...

Changing a light bulb won't help stop global warming?

Shooting the bastard who makes that claim, or who refuses to change to a light bulb that would save him money and make his home safer, probably wouldn't help with global warming much, either. But it would sure feel good.

Obviously, good feelings alone can't be used as a criterion for useful, noble, nor especially legal, action.

But you know, the Bible has a few passages warning virgins (and anyone else concerned about light in the dark) to keep their lamps well supplied with oil, and wicks trimmed.

At least we can say that the Bible suggests those who won't change light bulbs will burn in hell for failing to follow the advice of Jesus's parable.

Alas, it's getting increasingly difficult to threaten people with hell. Here in Dallas it was 102 degrees again today. Just try to distinguish that from hell. That's just two degrees "cooler" than Phoenix.

Turn off that damned light!

Ed Darrell said...

The problem I have with the 'many small things' approach is that, fundamentally, it doesn't work..

The tyranny of numbers runs both ways.

"Many small things" add up quickly with a population of about 310 million people in the nation. If everybody gave a penny . . .

Modest changes consequently may have enormous impacts, if adopted widely enough. Catalytic converters cleaned the air of Los Angeles and a thousand other American cities, not because each one was an incredible pollution cleaning machine, but because 200 million cars have 'em.

Andrew Dodds said...

Ed -

Actually.. catalytic converters are pretty incredible; when warm they should be up to 99% efficient. And they are mandatory (at least in the UK - you'd never pass emissions tests without one).

The equivalent for CO2 would be to *mandate* zero tailpipe emissions [of CO2] for all new passenger cars.

Now, if they were only 25% efficient and fitting them was voluntary, we'd be in one of the 'small changes' categories - equivalent to going from petrol to modern diesels for US SUVs - which would lower emissions over the decade or so it took to replace the fleet, but meanwhile you are a decade on with only slightly lower emissions; AND this new fleet will be around for another decade.

Or replacing coal with natural gas.. yes you've made an improvement.. but those gas fired stations will be around and emitting for decades to come.

I also think that this 'small steps' approach basically ducks the big political fight which is ultimately required for zero CO2 emissions. If we reach 2030-2040 and we've only lowered emissions by 20-30% we have problems..

Russell Seitz said...

If you could precipitate or sieve all the CO2 from your share of the air , where would you, personally plan to store those 182 cubic meters of dry ice or liquid CO2 , or 144,000 cubic meters pf CO2 gas?

Martin Vermeer said...

Russell, inside Tardis?

John said...

On vegetarianism:
I used to joke that
eating a vegetarian diet doesn't make you live longer. It just SEEMS longer.

But now I limit myself to chicken or fish, no beef. Beef is about the least efficient meat in using natural resources (area of grass, input of water). The no-beef policy limits saturated fats in the diet, for health reasons.

Alas for the bad old days! I no longer enjoy fettucine alfredo with its delicious creamy sauce, or fried chicken imperial with mushrooms and a heavy-cream sauce. TONS of saturated fats, and utterly delicious. It's seemingly an ironclad law of Nature: if it tastes really good, it's bad for you. Because saturated fat tastes great.

I consider Dr. Walter Willett's 2001 book, Eat, Drink and Be Healthy to be a reliable source of diet advice. The nation's bookshelves groan from the weight of zillions of unreliable diet advice books. Walter Willett is at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. On the other hand, Andrew Weil attended Harvard Medical School, and while some of Weil's opinions are reliable, some of his other opinions are quackery.

Hank Roberts said...

It's got significant teeth!

Hank Roberts said...

That salamander; definitely not pet material.

Answering Russell's question about

> your share of the air, where
> would you, personally plan to store

As compost, unless Bill Calvin's plankton sink works out.

Brian said...

Yeah I saw that Hank. I've gently touched them but haven't picked one up. Will be careful if I have to - which could be soon, the worm bin is nearly full and I need to pull out some finished compost.

Russell Seitz said...

Hank, that's a lot of compost, and even allowing for food chain losses, a truly ominous number of salamanders.

crf said...

Substituting meat is a good idea.

Making your own food is a much better way to reduce the carbon footprint. There are two reasons for this: if you have to spend the time to make your own food, you'll more appreciate the effort that went into making it, and savour it, but if you have food given to you, at a restaurant, it's effortless to indulge. The result is that you'll eat more of the food you don't have to prepare. Also, if you make your own food, you can control the ingredients, especially added sugar and fat.

crf said...

And in the last thread where there was a conversation about the in and outs of conservation. http://rabett.blogspot.ca/2013/06/the-five-fold-path.html.

I made that point that the downside of conservation is in power-system economics. If you are not growing your electricity system, you're financially locking yourself into the generation you have, and at the same time increasing its costs per unit produced. This makes adding new clean generation very difficult without growing subsidies. The high cost of power will also make it difficult to justify substituting, for example, electric heating for gas-fired heating (in fact, it will move in the opposite direction).

This is a sort of paradox not unlike Jevon's paradox. Jevon's paradox was that the more efficient you got at using a resource the more of it was used. But here, electricity is being made ever more expensive, and growth in its use is stagnating. The result is that electricity will not be likely replacing the energy contained in fossil fuels for space heating, transport (trains and so on) or industrial projects (steel, heat treatments, motorized machines, etc). Without a program to increase electricity use the West will never build many new power stations: it's locked in to what it has.

Conservation isn't bad: but it has effects that should be recognized. If electricity use is growing (as is the case in China and India, Africa, and much of the less-developed world) the more economical it is to add power of any kind (including clean power).

willard said...

> Changing a light bulb won't help stop global warming?

Of course it will, as it will be darker, sooner or later.

willard said...

Typos ate my joke.