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1: Cancel the Bolin Fellowships

I predict that this program is at the top of the list of cuts. There are six fellows and they receive a stipend of around $35,000 per year plus (I think) benefits. Throw in auxiliary expenses, and the total bill is over $200,000.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jeff for providing a link to the program and to JG for the suggestion on numbering. I have created a new category for this discussion: ABCP Items. Previous discussions on the Bolin Fellowships here and here. In the old days, I was against the Bolin because I would rather see the money spent on 1 or two additional permanent members of the faculty. Now, I am against the Bolin because something must be cut.

I do not think that the Bolin is funded via a directed endowment of some sort. (I have certainly never seen a reference to such a gift.) The College could cut the whole thing if it wanted. In previous years (check the documents), awards were made in early March. Have any been made this year?

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#1 Comment By JeffZ On March 23, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

Fyi, a link to info about these:

http://dean-faculty.williams.edu/?page_id=98

This is a program I really like and would hate to see cut. That being said, it does seem pretty far afield from Williams’ core educational mission, and in tinmes like these, in a zero sum game, I’d have to agree with David here.

One caveat — a program like this might be funded by a specific restricted grant (I have no idea in this case), in which case cutting it would not help the college’s bottom line. That sort of concern wouldn’t apply to, say, an across the board salary cut or something less specific. But so long as this is funded out of the regular endowment, the cost / benefit in terms of educational benefits for Williams students seems pretty low to me.

#2 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On March 23, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

Two immediate questions for this exercise::

1) Is this paid by restricted funds (Jeff’s)?

2) What is the teaching load taken on by the Bolins?

#3 Comment By rory On March 23, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

#4 Comment By JeffZ On March 23, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

Nice Rory. That is the best “beating a dead horse” graphic (and I’ve employed a few on this blog) I’ve seen, I am gonna have to save that link for future reference …

#5 Comment By anon On March 23, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

I believe they teach one course a year.

#6 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On March 23, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

To my surprise, I am going to disagree with Jeff Z here in favor of keeping the program. While cutting the numbers back is (probably) in order, the Bolin fellowships are long established and serve two important functions. Both are premised on a belief that the College benefits by (a) having a more “diverse” (meaning more “underepresented groups) faculty, and (b) being perceived nationally in academic circles as being hospitable to faculty from underrepresented groups. I think the Bolin fellowships are positives on both fronts, even if the effects are hard to measure. If you disagree that points (a) and (b) are important, of course, then keeping the Bolin fellowships is harder to justify.

In my view, there are substantial, if somewhat intangible, benefits to the College on both points (a) and (b), so I would keep the fellowships. (Its also worth noting that they also allow for the teaching of additional classes each year, that is likely a benefit to (some) current students). Shutting down the program, even if only for a few years, could seriously damage the goodwill/reputational benefits that Williams has built up in the program over the years. I would more inclined to make some of the necessary revenue through additional salary freezez/cuts and increases in some student fees. These changes would more be more easily reversible when economic conditions warranted it.

#7 Comment By anon2 On March 23, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

Are all these proposals going to be all or nothing threats? Or, is this a ploy similar to the logic of Solomon’s judgment? One might think that the threat of completely abolishing the program (or some other extreme measure) is meant to illicit compromise proposals. A compromise would save some money but preserve some of the benefits of the program. (Of course, one must be convinced that the mission makes sense … as Whitney points out.)

Here is a compromise: cut the number of fellows in half (1 one year and 2 the next so that 3 would be in residence each year) and up the teaching load from 1 per year to 1 in the first year and 2 in the second year. The costs go down by 50%; the tangible benefit (i.e., course taught) goes up by 50% per fellow. In total, the program would teach 4 or 5 courses per year (compared to 6 under the current system). Given the scarcity of academic jobs right now, post-docs like this one should be at a premium and it might help the College snag a great hire who would otherwise be difficult to attract.

That raises another question: has the program been helpful in the College being able to hire underrepresented groups into tenure-track positions? If so, the College benefits directly from the program. If the fellows all leave for other places, then it seems like the College is providing a nice service to lots of other schools (can we afford such public services right now?).

The program seems scalable. If I’m not mistaken, the program has expanded over time. A reduction now could be followed by a future expansion (if times get better) or future elimination (if things don’t turn around).

#8 Comment By JG On March 23, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

Small suggestion: could you title the post with something to label it as part of the series? Since you’re doing one of these each day (or whatever it was you said) it would be helpful to be able to easily find the/identify them. Numbering would also help for reference back later. I know you created a category label, but archives searches don’t always work that well.

#9 Comment By JeffZ On March 23, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

Whitney and anon2, makes perfect sense, I’m sold (especially the part about teaching two classes each instead of one — one class per semester seems pretty manageable with plenty of time for research)

#10 Comment By David On March 23, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

1) I have updated the post. Thanks to the suggestions above.

2) Keep in mind: If you would not cut this, then what would you cut? I received exactly zero suggestions to my ABCP Items post. If you don’t want to save $200,000 here, where do you want to save it? Many of the cuts that come later on in this discussion (like closing Williams-in-Oxford) will, I think, be much less popular than this one.

Even if we end almost everything that I want to end (and I suspect that I am at the right (?) tail in terms of my willingness to cut costs), we still have trouble getting to the $10 million that ought to be cut this year.

3) It is much easier to cut an entire program than just cut bits and pieces from everything. (We have to, and are, doing that anyway.)

4) Whitney’s talk of “being perceived nationally in academic circles as being hospitable to faculty from underrepresented groups” is nice and all, but worth $200,000 per year? None of that matters in any meaningful way. Professors are, surprisingly enough, like you and me. They care about salary, location, working conditions, partner-opportunities and so on. You can bet that, say, Professor X would rather cancel the Bolin than take a pay cut. (I would too!)

#11 Comment By anon2 On March 23, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

David —

I’m not sure why cutting some programs completely is so much easier (or better) than marginal cuts in a large number of places. Basic economics suggests thinking about marginal costs and marginal benefits (though this logic still allows for eliminating some programs entirely when warranted). Granted, the savings are much larger when you ax programs completely. If push comes to shove, I’d be willing to eliminate this program — but it isn’t my sacred cow. For other people, this program might be incredibly important. This debate reminds me of Senator Russell Long’s poem:

Don’t tax me
Don’t tax thee
Tax that fellow behind the tree

Your point of trade-offs is spot on. If keeping this program costs $250,000, would 250 faculty members be willing to give up $1,000 in salary per year? Would 2000 students be willing to pay (without the assistance of financial aid) an extra $125 each?

One thing to keep in mind is that eliminating this program cuts six courses per year. Does eliminating the program create the cost of more crowding in other classes (go back to your cite of Gordon Winston’s paper that discusses the costs of growing the college)? Or, is this cost picked up by someone else teaching the classes?

In all this cost cutting discussion, it is more engaging to talk about cutting programs and big changes. However, much of the heavy lifting will come from many small changes. For example, the College must serve over 500,000 meals per year. If Dining Services can reduce the average cost of ingredients per meal by 50 cents, the savings can exceed your $200K threshold. Probably not a lot of controversy on this proposal so not much fun to blog about. A few years ago, I dined quite well at a regularly scheduled dining hall meal that had organic greens and local artisan cheese. Maybe this falls in the category of “green spending” and we’ll talk about it on “no more green spending day.”

#12 Comment By anon On March 23, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

Anon2 (no relation, as far as I know) makes the most important point here and I’m afraid it will be sacrificed to David’s love of controversy. Many small cuts would have far less of a negative impact than a few big ones, but are less interesting to discuss. What if the conference funds for every faculty member took at $500 cut? That would save at least 100K right there and would not significantly degrade the quality of the either the educational experience the college offers or the opportunities its faculty enjoy. As Anon2 points out, there is surely lots of, um, fat that could be cut in food services. This is exactly what the administration is doing when they ask departments to find ways to cut their budgets. Any sane department is going to cut back, not automatically cut out completely.

#13 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On March 23, 2009 @ 11:38 pm

Counter-proposal:

Increase the number of Bolin-like fellowships significantly, recruiting highly qualified post-quals Ph.D. candidates aggressively, assigning them a significant (if reduced) teaching load, pairing them with mentoring faculty (who “miss the opportunity to work with grad students”) during the dissertation process , housing them as “residents” (resident resources) in upperclass housing.

How to calculate cost/benefit?

#14 Comment By aparent On March 24, 2009 @ 12:19 am

Re #2: The Bolins are considered to be a “Funding Priority” as a component of “Diversity” (after “Financial Aid”, “Sustainability,” Stetson-Sawyer, and CDE) according to the Williams Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations website at http://www.williams.edu/admin/cfr/funding.php

“As part of its effort to increase racial diversity within the faculty, Williams instituted the Gaius Charles Bolin Fellowships in 1985. Each year, one-year Bolin Fellowships are awarded to two or three underrepresented ABD doctoral candidates who come to Williams to teach and to complete their dissertations. Over the next few years Williams will expand the number of Bolin Fellow appointments to six each year. Funding is needed to endow these Bolin Fellowships.”

An October 1, 2008 Williams press release detailed the expanded program. http://www.williams.edu/admin/news/releases/1689/

“Bolin Fellows join the college’s academic community as faculty members but, in addition to teaching one course each year, devote the bulk of their time to the completion of their dissertation work. The program was enhanced this year so that fellows are now appointed to two-year residencies rather than one.

“‘The Bolin program has always provided advanced graduate students with a valuable introduction to a faculty career,’ said Associate Dean of the Faculty John Gerry. ‘But even with the time allowed for dissertation writing, many former fellows have felt the pressure of searching for a tenure-track faculty job at the same time. Now that the Bolin Fellows can stay for two full years, we expect that they will more easily complete their degrees in the first year, leaving the second year more open for career development. And given that we aim to appoint three fellows each year, the size of the Bolin cohort on campus will increase to six starting in 2009-10. We are very pleased with the scholarly accomplishments and prior teaching experience of the first three Fellows to kick off this enhanced program.'”

Perhaps rather than expand the program this coming academic year, the College will opt to leave it at its current/previous level — unless designated funding/endowments to support the expansion have already been secured.

#15 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On March 24, 2009 @ 12:56 am

How much money could the College save by lowering the hot water temperatures in the dorms by 3-4 degrees? Raising Snack Bar prices by 5%?

#16 Comment By David On March 24, 2009 @ 3:34 am

1) Rory: Instead of posting pretty pictures, maybe you could suggest someway for Williams to save $200,000 per year?

2) Thanks for the suggestions! I will add the artesinal cheese issue to the green spending post. No one objects to buying the best tasting lettace at the lowest price. No one objects to buying local lettace if it makes sense on a taste/cost dimension. But, at least some of the College’s propoganda on local buying comes in a carbon emissions envelope. This is stupid for two reasons. First, we can no longer afford such symbolism. Second, it isn’t even clear that buying local produce reduces carbon emissions, but that is a post for another day.

3) I am not adding a post on generic meal savings until I can find at least some background info. The College is, as best I can tell, totally opaque. Can we save $200,000 from the food budget? Perhaps. Or maybe our food budget is already as cheap as it can be. No one outside knows.

4) I will add a post on faculty benefits, like attending academic conferences. But could someone provide at least a few details on this? How much do faculty get for this each year? What other items fall in this category?

5) Ken: Your conter-proposal is fairly ridiculous, as you probably know. If you want to make it a main post, I’ll give more details. But the short answer is that any smart Ph.D. spends a lot of time with his dissertation adviser post-quals. Not doing so is a good way to end your academic career before it begins.

6) I don’t think that a singel Bolin Fellow has ever become a tenure-track professor at Williams, at least in the way that some suggested might work above. (Counter-examples welcome!) At least one person was offered, and accepted, a Bolin+tenure-track position at the same time.

#17 Comment By David On March 24, 2009 @ 3:40 am

anon writes:

Many small cuts would have far less of a negative impact than a few big ones, but are less interesting to discuss.

impossible to have that conversation. We can’t talk about stuff like snack bar charges and water temperature without more details. There is nothing to say.

But, I can identify several specific items that would save more than $200,000. So, that is what we have left to talk about. Got other specific cuts with background info? Please, suggest them. (And thanks for the conference fund info! I will make that a new post, but more details would be appreciated.)

anon2 (who needs a better psuedonym) writes:

I’m not sure why cutting some programs completely is so much easier (or better) than marginal cuts in a large number of places.

Thing is, we need to do both. The College is already instituting 15%+ cuts across the board for next year. By definition, this will create lots of little cuts all over the place. But it won’t be enough. We need another $10 million.

#18 Comment By anon On March 24, 2009 @ 7:31 am

“We can’t talk about stuff like snack bar charges and water temperature without more details.”

What about other small cuts suggested above? It seems that we are on as steady ground when we talk about cutting the cost of meals by .50 as we are talking about your bigger cuts. Or is this really just a pointless game you want to play for fun? Do you know what the budget of the WCMA or the football team is? Is it really less sensible to talk about small cuts than to talk about closing the WCMA or ending football? That’s about as likely as the college deciding that they’ll save a bundle by finding a president who will work as a volunteer. You know such proposals have zero chance of happening so why bother wasting time on them?

#19 Comment By anon On March 24, 2009 @ 7:36 am

I know of two tenure track profs who were Bolin Fellows in the last 5 years. Because of David’s tendency to attack faculty and staff on this site based on a few quick Google searches and his personal crusades, I will do them the service of not identifying them.

That being said, I do think this is one of the more attractive areas for substantial cuts in very tough economic times.

#20 Comment By JG On March 24, 2009 @ 7:50 am

I love that you claim discussions are impossible without more details, but you still haven’t gotten around to finding out whether these funds are restricted.

As Rory’s quite helpful illustration demonstrates, you’ve been beating this particular horse for YEARS now I believe. And yet, are the funds restricted?

BTW, I’m also amused that you assume the faculty is wasteful and that salaries are too high, etc. etc. but Dining Services is apparently the only magical department that can’t cut anything anywhere. Do you read your own posts?

And because I just can’t resist….

Second, it isn’t even clear that buying local produce reduces carbon emissions, but that is a post for another day.

Really? Isn’t clear to whom? If you had argued that it hasn’t been shown to stop climate change, I’d have disagreed but at least there is perhaps an honest argument to be made. How can you say that driving from Stockbridge emits more carbon than transportation from, say, California? I’d love to have that argument with you. Let’s do that one next, at least it wouldn’t be a re-hash of the same 3 arguments you make otherwise (Bolin fellow, Office of Campus Life, *slobber* Erin Burnett *pant, pant*).

#21 Comment By rory On March 24, 2009 @ 9:12 am

no david, i post a picture because i refuse to enter this debate on the arbitrary grounds you’ve demanded, to discuss an issue already discussed in great depth here (and on which you’ve already infuriated me and misrepresented my views and those of my friends), to waste my time arguing with you on what is clearly a pet peeve of yours on which you’re underinformed (and the local food shot? smh. please, make that post. i want to laugh)

regardless of the why or the whats or how you’ll try to spin this:
https://www.stickergiant.com/Merchant2/imgs/450/him2076_450.jpeg

#22 Comment By nuts On March 24, 2009 @ 11:24 am

I’m all for David’s cost-cutting posts if he’d do his homework. As it stands, the debate is lacking facts that an intelligent person knows are available and knows must be obtained in order to inform the debate. David frames the debate this way: I have found a potential cut of X, if you disagree you must propose and alternative cut that yields at least X for the conversation to continue. In fact, cost-cutting is about identifying what we value and how deep we must cut. So, how about agreeing on how deep we must cut and then identifying what we value rather than adhere to David’s unproductive frame? Or else we can continue to we can continue to …

#23 Comment By kthomas On March 24, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

David @16-5: It was perhaps meant as a food for thought– a way of calculating counter-value– but perhaps not as frivolously as you assume.

I do like to put some numbers on things now and again: dividing roughly (and it’s a questionable experiment at these absolute numbers), I’d assign a Bolin $12K of credit for teaching a course/year– call that $20K for two courses (since there is some diminishing return). Are there other values which would make Bolins value-positive (if not ‘cash-flow’ positive)? Can we get ‘close enough?’

begin: &#60sidetrack&#62
The reality is– economically, most institutions do not survive from Professors teaching courses– they survive from grad students teaching courses. And assistant professors, at least at Berkeley when I was there, hour for hour, get paid less than grad assistants, so they’re a few interesting potential value propositions here, if one is willing to work through them.

With the Bolins, without needing to talk about specific individuals, I wonder what you get from a such a small program, which is not highly advertized nor likely to spur competition or affect life choices– by that last, I mean, people direct their lives and choices because of the NSFs or Javits.

If you’re willing to go down the road of the thought experiment, then– what would it be like if it were known that Williams offered 20 positions a year, across disciplines, with NSF/Javits levels support (and a teaching component)?

What if this were a ten-college experiment? (A hundred LACs)? Surely– if we can fund them–

then how do we as a nation fund that change (what does it cost– say, a thousand permanent teaching positions, awarded strictly by competitive merit, across the LACs?

I get $65M/yr at support levels twice the Bolins, or so. Can that be right? (Let me get my calculator out again). Yep, $65M to accomplish some systematic change.

&#60/sidetrack&#62
The Bolins (if you don’t take into account the teaching component) provide roughly the level of support of the Jacob Javits (the US’s national fellowship in the Humanities). I’m not sure if you are aware of the level of disparity here– when I graduated, there were 1,200 NSF fellowships awarded; there were thirty-six Javits. There are hundreds or thousands of people out there– among the most qualifies– who simply “will not” complete Ph.Ds for lack of financial support.

I’m not going to talk about the GRE scores– but I’ve seen them for a number of departments at Berkeley– those scores do measure something– and I wonder if the Humanities, broadly defined, are getting the talent of the sciences.

Your ‘simple answer,’ which centers around what would appear a good piece of advise, does not seem sufficient counterargument to me. Not every department, nor dissertation committee, is prepared to– or nominally gives– such attentions; committee chairs, sometimes, go off to Hawaii for a year, or otherwise never step on campus for a variety of reasons; I might even go so far as to quip, “how much time do you estimate a grad student in English at Duke, gets from…”; at some point in the day, I recalled sitting in Dean Grudin’s office, and having him explain to me, that I should not expect grad school to be Williams; I could easily argue from the counter-example of grad students at Vandy, now in tenure-track positions, who got scant hours from their advisers; or use those examples, and others at Berkeley, to talk of students who exchanged dissertation chapter copies in email between continents, received scant comments back, and struggled to get their committee to agree on a few hours to meet in the same room– sometimes footing the airfare.

Do I necessarily like this system, or think it is optimal in the sense of economic efficiency? I tend to develop a sense of naseau around professors (outside of the actual research sciences) who take in more than $300K/yr and do not engage in teaching; I start to reformulate Nietzsche’s passages about ‘bad air’ in my head…

But no, as good as your advice may be in some situations, I don’t think it addresses the ‘depth and breadth’ of academia.

#24 Comment By Larry George On March 25, 2009 @ 9:29 am

This thread reminds me that there can be a number of aproaches to cost-cutting (some of which could be combined), including:

1) across the board with no sacred cows protected;

2) across the board except as to protected sacred cows;

2A) a higher percentage across the board to “non-sacred cow” items and a lesser cut to (formerly untouchable) “sacred cow” items;

3) elimination of one or more major programs, leaving most other things untouched or slightly scaled back;

4) thousands of small cuts;

5) temporary (or permanent) scaling back;

6) suspending all or part of some programs until the college’s financial situation improves;

7) combining programs (or offices or whatever is being cut);

8) reimagining/restructuring a program (which might have the desirable side effect of turning it into something that is more relevant to the needs of today’s campus and students);

9) diminishing the frequency of a program (an annual non-endowed symposium might be held every other year, for example);

10) scaling down (isn’t it a bit excessive to be giving so many honorary degrees? and what does one more participant in a panel of honorees really add? I am assuming that the college is paying the costs of transporting and hosting these folks);

and
11) finding ways to celebrate and carry on without a lot of expensive bells and whistles (so the programs still happen but there is a very high “For shame” radar screen that cuts out glitz and silly needless expense or substitutes, say, a few pieces of posterboard and some markers for student expression in the place of vast bouquets of expensive purple cow balloons, or chalkboards instead of expensive plasma monitors for announcements).

Are there other possibilities? Someone else can probably define and delineate the possibilities more precisely and add possibilities I haven’t thought of — please do. I am thinking that having a menu of approaches could be helpful in evaluating how to proceed and ni understanding the college’s options and the effects of pursuing them.

#25 Comment By Loweeel On March 26, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

JG: How can you say that driving from Stockbridge emits more carbon than transportation from, say, California?

It’s pretty easy, actually, and even easier if we’re just going to consider it in the abstract. Consider the Carbon to Grow (CG) something — including energy, heating, etc. as well as the Carbon to Transport (CT). CGcali << CGstockbridge, such that CGcali + CTcali < CGstockbridge + CTstockbridge.

This may or may not be true overall, or it may vary depending on the time of year and how the power in each location is generated. But conceptually, it’s not difficult to make a plausible claim that local isn’t always more carbon-efficient, especially when there are plenty of agricultural scenarios for which it’s actually been calculated out to the contrary.

Consider the following instructive examples (from the noted right wing troglodytes and global warming skeptics at the New Yorker):

Yet the relationship between food miles and their carbon footprint is not nearly as clear as it might seem. That is often true even when the environmental impact of shipping goods by air is taken into consideration. “People should stop talking about food miles,” Adrian Williams told me. “It’s a foolish concept: provincial, damaging, and simplistic.” Williams is an agricultural researcher in the Natural Resources Department of Cranfield University, in England. He has been commissioned by the British government to analyze the relative environmental impacts of a number of foods. “The idea that a product travels a certain distance and is therefore worse than one you raised nearby—well, it’s just idiotic,” he said. “It doesn’t take into consideration the land use, the type of transportation, the weather, or even the season. Potatoes you buy in winter, of course, have a far higher environmental ticket than if you were to buy them in August.” Williams pointed out that when people talk about global warming they usually speak only about carbon dioxide. Making milk or meat contributes less CO2 to the atmosphere than building a house or making a washing machine. But the animals produce methane and nitrous oxide, and those are greenhouse gases, too. “This is not an equation like the number of calories or even the cost of a product,’’ he said. “There is no one number that works.”

Many factors influence the carbon footprint of a product: water use, cultivation and harvesting methods, quantity and type of fertilizer, even the type of fuel used to make the package. Sea-freight emissions are less than a sixtieth of those associated with airplanes, and you don’t have to build highways to berth a ship. Last year, a study of the carbon cost of the global wine trade found that it is actually more “green” for New Yorkers to drink wine from Bordeaux, which is shipped by sea, than wine from California, sent by truck. That is largely because shipping wine is mostly shipping glass. The study found that “the efficiencies of shipping drive a ‘green line’ all the way to Columbus, Ohio, the point where a wine from Bordeaux and Napa has the same carbon intensity.”

The environmental burden imposed by importing apples from New Zealand to Northern Europe or New York can be lower than if the apples were raised fifty miles away. “In New Zealand, they have more sunshine than in the U.K., which helps productivity,” Williams explained. That means the yield of New Zealand apples far exceeds the yield of those grown in northern climates, so the energy required for farmers to grow the crop is correspondingly lower. It also helps that the electricity in New Zealand is mostly generated by renewable sources, none of which emit large amounts of CO2. Researchers at Lincoln University, in Christchurch, found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped eleven thousand miles by boat to England produced six hundred and eighty-eight kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions per ton, about a fourth the amount produced by British lamb. In part, that is because pastures in New Zealand need far less fertilizer than most grazing land in Britain (or in many parts of the United States). Similarly, importing beans from Uganda or Kenya—where the farms are small, tractor use is limited, and the fertilizer is almost always manure—tends to be more efficient than growing beans in Europe, with its reliance on energy-dependent irrigation systems.

Williams and his colleagues recently completed a study that examined the environmental costs of buying roses shipped to England from Holland and of those exported (and sent by air) from Kenya. In each case, the team made a complete life-cycle analysis of twelve thousand rose stems for sale in February—in which all the variables, from seeds to store, were taken into consideration. They even multiplied the CO2 emissions for the air-freighted Kenyan roses by a factor of nearly three, to account for the increased effect of burning fuel at a high altitude. Nonetheless, the carbon footprint of the roses from Holland—which are almost always grown in a heated greenhouse—was six times the footprint of those shipped from Kenya. Even Williams was surprised by the magnitude of the difference. “Everyone always wants to make ethical choices about the food they eat and the things they buy,” he told me. “And they should. It’s just that what seems obvious often is not. And we need to make sure people understand that before they make decisions on how they ought to live.”

Or those at the NRDC and Salon.

#26 Comment By JG On March 26, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

I’ll be polite and just note that my one sentence does not encapsulate the extent of my knowledge on this subject. A few responses keyed to the actual situation at Williams versus a generalized global commentary such as you provided above. Those are all valid points, however…

First off, I’m unaware of any major shipping lanes that end in landlocked western Massachusetts. Many of those transportation emissions analyses compare potential cargo shipping by boat. It may be less carbon-emitting to import from Africa or New Zealand versus California for that reason, but somebody is going to have to drive it or train it to the Purple Valley.

Also, my understanding with the college’s attempt to use local ingredients was that they were using more of what was seasonal and available locally (and sustainably). This means using crops that are abundant locally without crazy chemicals and other artificial things that thereby produce more carbon or pollution.

Finally, as to David’s original point, I don’t accept the premise that buying locally/sustainably is automatically more expensive. In fact, it often can be just as cost-effective due to saved shipping costs and the good prices you get by guaranteeing a local company/farm that you will be their sole or largest client.