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Friday, June 22, 2012

Consumer Demand and Drug Cartels

In my previous post ("Is Going Local Good for the Environment?"), I noted that one of the best ways we can reduce our carbon footprint is to eat less red meat and fewer dairy products. Why? Because cows are some of the worst polluters on the planet:
Their exhalation and flatulence and belching and manure emit methane, which by one common measure is about twenty-five times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide released by cars (and, by the way, humans). The world’s ruminants are responsible for about 50 percent more greenhouse gas than the entire transportation sector (Super Freakonomics, p. 167).
 Indeed, this is even more effective than buying produce grown locally:
More than 80 percent of the emissions associated with food are in the production phase, and big farms are far more efficient than small farms. Transportation represents only 11 percent of food emissions, with delivery from producer to retailer representing only 4 percent. The best way to help, Weber and Matthews suggest, is to subtly change your diet. “Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food,” they write (Super Freakonomics, p. 167).
As I was writing this, I couldn't help think about how this relates to the work that I do: teaching methods for the tracking and disruption of dark networks, such as terrorist groups, criminal gangs, and drug cartels. In terms of the latter (drug cartels, that is), most of these (e.g., the FARC, Los Zetas, Sinaloa) make their money selling cocaine to American consumers. And just as reducing our consumption of red meat and dairy products can put a dent into our combined carbon footprints, reducing American consumption of cocaine would put a serious dent into the revenues of these cartels.

Unfortunately, we live in a highly individualistic society where we seldom consider the consequences beyond our immediate family and friends (and sometimes not even that far). Many of those who use cocaine (or other drugs) think that as long as they're not hurting themselves or their close friends, then it's OK. But it isn't that simple. The recreational use of cocaine has causal effects that extend far beyond our immediate social circles. Indeed, they extend all the way to the bank accounts of some extremely violent individuals and groups, whose absence would make the world a better place.

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