The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘energy’ Category

WHEN GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE

I can’t put up a post under this title very frequently for reasons which are self-apparent.  But as I was thinking about some of the real problems we are facing (or more exactly not facing) it occurs to me that we might be able to kill two birds with one stone (or at least inflict some serious damage on them).  Those two are our deficits and our health.  Oh, and collaterally, we also could potentially lower prices for energy and help the environment – all with one move.

And that move is that we start applying a Federal Excise Tax to all soda that is sold in the United States.

I won’t bore you with all the statistics about the long-term effects of sugar (and sugar-substitute) on our health as I’ve already bored you with that.  Let me just synopsize those earlier posts by saying that we are growing fatter and seeing an explosion in diabetes and cardio-vascular disease – in large measure because of the amount of refined sugar that we consume.

To say that this is an “epidemic” is not to coin a phrase but merely to use the terminology that the CDC and NIH employ in several of their studies.  Obviously, if you develop a nation of chronically ill patients you place an undue burden on an already overly-burdened health care system.  While the sugar that we consume in our soda is certainly not the only reason for this state of affairs, it is a major contributor to our situation.

A well thought out law is intended to alter behavior to achieve a positive result.  That is why we have traffic laws and is why we have excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol.  Driving in an imprudent manner results in traffic deaths and excess consumption of tobacco products and alcohol have serious long-run health implications.  But so does sugar consumption – perhaps ones which are even more apocalyptic in scope.

We Americans consume an average of nearly three servings of soda a day.  For purposes of this post, I am going to consider a serving to be the amount of soda contained in a typical can.  (I’d give you the quantity that contains but I don’t have any on hand to which I might refer since I don’t buy the stuff).

If you do the math, by placing a twenty-five cent excise tax on each “serving” whether that was a consumer’s purchase at the grocery store or one dispensed from a fountain at a convenience store or served with a restaurant meal, that would raise just shy of $80 Billion dollars a year.  Incidentally, that is more than the most optimistic estimates suggest could be raised by eliminating the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 per year.  (Parenthetically, while I think that is a short-sighted proposal, I need to add that I am not someone who would be affected were that to occur).

As I said previously, a well crafted law should be written to achieve a positive result.  Hopefully, the imposition of this excise tax should reduce the amount of soda that we consume – reducing the amount of revenue we collect in the future.  But there should be consequent savings which would be achieved by lowering the number of new patients needing attention by our medical practitioners for chronic conditions who were able to avoid them by altering their lifestyles.

And, of course, how does one put a price on not having to spend a lifetime measuring one’s blood sugar or self-administering insulin?  As Grandma used to say, “If you have your health you have everything.”

All that soda has to be put in containers to make it available for the consumer to purchase.  Aluminum is one of the most energy-consumptive materials known to man – and we use and discard a lot of it.  Plastic bottles are made from petrochemicals and have their own potential health consequences.

All that energy and all that litter tied up in those little cans and bottles of effervescence.

Will the imposition of such a tax cure all our problems, economic, health, energy and conservation?  Of course not.  But it’s a better start than anything I’ve heard proposed to date – and we need to start somewhere.

We have become conditioned to think of life as disposable and those things which we acquire to be of value only until we are tired of them and throw them away for something else which will amuse us for a short while.  Maybe it is the abundance that we have enjoyed that has led to that mindset – an abundance enjoyed but received without a sense of gratitude.  We have been fortunate as a nation that we’ve gotten away with that for so long.

If we all took the time to educate ourselves on ways to better our health, we would not need yet another rule, regulation or tax from Big Brother in Washington.  But it is obvious that there are few of us who are willing to make that effort and even fewer who are willing to make the commitment to themselves.  And in that context, I think this would be one of the wisest interventions that government could bring to bear.

ON CONSISTENCY AND LEADERSHIP

What constitutes winning leadership?  The answer that has come back from study after study is that whether it is in a family setting, in the workplace or in government it is that those who direct our activities are consistent in their behavior.

It seems to be an innate part of our nature that we like certainty.  We wake up each morning expecting the sun to be there; we catch a regular train on our commute to work; we have our favorite spots to go for meals or certain special foods that we enjoy eating at home; we look forward to March Madness and the Super Bowl; we enjoy the feeling of festivity and friendship and warmth that comes from sharing the Holidays with our relatives and friends.  Such is human nature – and as a member of that group – I share those feelings.

As I reflected on this I thought about the leadership that we have seen out of Washington, D. C. in recent years.  I thought about this in terms of two separate but very important areas which affect all of us – the first being the omnibus healthcare legislation which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court and the second, our energy policy.

On the surface and without engaging in a debate as to the delivery mechanisms, it would seem that a caring society would want to include as many if not all its members in a program to ensure their health and well-being.  That is how President Obama’s healthcare plan has been presented to us and those who are supporters will find comfort in their belief that this is good legislation.

So for purposes of conversation, let’s accept that it is just that – good legislation and good policy.  Its inclusiveness will reach out to those who currently are unable to purchase healthcare insurance – which should include a significant number of our financially poorer citizens.  As a person who believes that helping others is both a personal responsibility as well as a societal obligation, I endorse the theory and presumed motivation behind this concept.

Now let’s look at the administration’s views on energy.  I re-blogged a post yesterday by Green Mountain Scribes entitled “Out of Touch Obama”.  This article makes a very strong case for the administration’s determination to see that energy prices increase significantly – in order to push us towards a more environmentally-friendly solution to develop clean fuels and sources for our energy needs.  Again, I support that concept of reducing our carbon emissions – but let me share with you the reality off that quest.

Several years ago I investigated the possibility of installing solar panels on my house.  I had already taken as many steps as I could to reduce my energy consumption – improving insulation and just turning things off.  So I finally found a company that had the capability of installing solar panels on my home and eliminating any electric demands I would have to make on NV Energy – our local electric utility.

After the Federal and Nevada credits were applied, my net cost to totally solarize a modest-sized home was approximately $120,000.  (As the market in housing had already started on its precipitous decline – I could have purchased two or perhaps three small houses here for that investment).  So I reviewed the economics of this and ultimately decided that it would take me approximately 80 years to recover my solar investment – but I stood a far greater chance of being able to develop a rental income and perhaps make a profit on the sale of the alternative home investment if that were the route that I pursued.  As it turned out, I did neither of these.

It is my understanding that with the improvement in the production and cost reduction in solar panels, three years later (and without benefit of government subsidies), I could now have that installation done for a cost of about $75,000.  Based on my current electric usage that still would require about 50 years to recoup my investment.  In other words, we are a very long way from getting the costs of environmentally-friendly solar panels down to where they are affordable for the average individual.  And, of course, they have a limited geographical value because of the presence or absence of consistent sunlight.

But in the meanwhile, rising oil and gas prices have a very direct and immediate impact on all of us.  As I drove from the dog park two weeks ago, I remember one day as I passed a 7-11 on my way home that the price at the pump was changed twice that day and again the following morning.  (By changed I mean raised).  So the current administration’s policy is having the effect of draining spendable dollars, vitally needed to get our economic recovery on track, and putting those dollars in their gas tanks so that those who still have jobs can get to work.

But there is a far more insidious consequence to all of this as it relates to the health of our citizenry.  Rising prices for fossil fuels means rising costs for utility services.

I remember reading, during periods of extreme weather both hot and cold, about how many elderly people and young children died because they or their parents couldn’t afford to pay their utility bills and did without the benefits of heat or air conditioning.  An increase in the price of these services will certainly mean that even more people should expect to succumb to this fate should we again experience extreme weather conditions which are apparently becoming more the norm than the exception.

As we work toward a viable renewable energy system (which by the most optimistic estimates will provide no more than ten percent of our needs), is it reasonable or moral to treat the most vulnerable members of our society as mere pawns, readily sacrificed for the ultimate greater good?  This question is particularly important as it is these very people whom we purportedly seek to benefit in our strategy of expanding our healthcare system.

I for one would rest more comfortably if I felt that those who are making decisions that affect all of us were true leaders and made decisions which were consistent.

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