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Six Degrees of Intertwining

August 6th, 2009 · 3 Comments

I have this private mantra: it’s all about energy, it’s all about climate.

Somewhat like six degrees of separation, no matter the issue area, I can (I will …) bring any and all conversation items back to our energy and climate challenges.

But, when it comes to health (and health care) and energy, we’re not talking about six degrees of separation but, in fact, at least six ways they’re intertwined …

Here are Six Degrees of the Intertwining of Health & Energy

1. Our current energy system sickens our planet and sickens us.

2. Improving our energy system will improve our health.

3. Our current energy system and our current health care system are unaffordable, unmanageable, desperately requiring recreation.

4. Tackling energy and health care are our two greatest opportunities for improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

5. The public discussion focuses on “CtB” rather than “CtO” (Cost to Buy vs Cost to Own), leading to a distorted public debate.

6. The opponents of change are intertwined, often the same Corporate interests, ready to use virtually any tactic tangible to fight against change.

Let’s take just a few paragraphs to explore these.

Our current energy system sickens our planet and sickens us

Where to start on this? To simply mention that burning fossil fuels is a key driver for climate change and acidification of the oceans? Or mercury from coal plans leads to restrictions on eating fish? Or that living near highways correlates with lower IQ due to the fumes from the cars and trucks? Or, the diseases from oil spills (whether in drilled areas or from spills)? Black Lung disease? Etc … Very simply, the energy sources we rely on and how we burn them worsen our health. (Note: Yes, coal-fired electricity enabled us to have refrigerators, hospital ventilators, air conditioning on hot summer days — but we now can get electricity from less damaging sources, if we choose to.) Quite literally, it is unlikely that there is a single person on the planet whose health is not, in some way, adversely affected by fossil fuel pollution.

Improving our energy system will improve our health.

First off, by cleaning up our sources of energy, we will cut down on cancer, reduce asthma rates, bump up IQs, … Cleaning up our energy sources won’t just help save the planet’s habilitability for humanity, but help foster better human health.

Second, many of the steps toward a more sustainable energy system will foster better life. For example, energy efficient buildings are (generally) more comfortable and healthier (think more daylighting, less suffering from extreme temperature shifts, cleaner air, fewer drafts, etc …).

Third, a sensible energy system will foster healthier lifestyles — think more walking, more biking, less sedentary time.

And, there is the broader ‘energy’. A Victory Garden means taking the time to be outside, to be in the garden relaxing while working, and means eating fresh food from your own garden.

And …

Our current energy system and our current health care system are unaffordable, unmanageable, desperately requiring re-creation.

$140 barrel of oil occurred and most likely (without dramatic shifts in our energy structure) will happen again. $4 gallon of gas will, at some time again, look cheap. And, we can’t afford to keep sending $100s of billions overseas to then burn that money in McSUV gas tanks. Coal is blowing up our mountains and filling in streams. FRACKing Gas is damaging our water supplies. …

Individuals, businesses, the government can’t afford the cost of insurance nor the costs of lacking insurance. Health care is suffering as people are priced out of the most appropriate insurance for them and the right health care. And, the cost keep spiraling upwards well above national inflation and economic growth.

These are unsustainable …

Tackling energy and health care are our two greatest opportunities for improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

The French provide universal health care, in mixed private-public system, of better quality, and better results for about half the per capita cost of US health care. Tackling health care in an intelligent way could liberate $100s of billions (perhaps $trillion) every year to be spent in other ways, even while improving health care coverage to Americans. THis goes well beyond, simply, the “GM penalty” of the health care cost burden to exporting companies competing against businesses based in countries with more sensible energy systems. For example, how much entreprenorship is actually stifled in the United States due to people too scared of losing health care coverage if they strike out on their own? How many people who end up disability (or dead) or on sick days might have been more productive if they had better access to preventative health care? …

As for energy, sending $100s of billions overseas each year to buy oil hurts our economic situation and competitiveness … point blank. In addition, ‘green’ will be the economic driver of the 21st century. The United States can strike out for a leading position, having leading systems that will be highly competitive around the globe or we can rely on importing others’ technologies, others’ systems spiral even further into economic decline as we relinguish any pretense of a world leadership position.

The public discussion focuses on “CtB” rather than “CtO” (Cost to Buy vs Cost to Own), leading to a distorted public debate.

Very simply, throughout out lives, we focus on how much things cost to buy rather than how much it actually costs to own. Yes, it costs more to buy a compact flourescent light bulb, but it will cost far (FAR) less to operated, and cost far less to own. Yes, it costs more money to have an annual physical than not, but the prevented diseases could be far, far more expensive. We tend, writ large, to have a culture that inhibits making that holistic choice.

To worsen the problem, both energy and health care suffer from overly stovepiped discussions. McKinsey & Co did a study of energy efficiency and reducing climate change — it was good news, and everyone trumpeted it as such. However, it was good news that, if done correctly, would have been great news. They didn’t calculate how white roofs on a building would lower air conditioning costs … for that building. They didn’t calculate how white rooftops across a community would lead to lower outdoor temperatures leading to lower demand for air conditioning leading to lower outdoor temperatures … They didn’t look to the productivity benefits due to healthier and happier employees (and students) in better quality work places and homes. They didn’t … Similarly, you have seen people trumpeted how, according to CBO, dealing with climate change will only cost a postage stamp per day. In fact, like McKinsey, these analyses are very stovepiped. No look at productivity improvement benefits. No considerations of valuing the avoided climate change damage. No discussion of the value of reduced health costs due to lowered pollution.

Similarly, when discussing health care reform “costs”, there is not consideration in the value of how this will improve business operations due to reducing the amount of internal time taken to bid out insurance and explain insurance policies, no valuing of improved competitiveness, no valuing of opening up American entrepreneurship, no valuing …

[A NOTE: To be clear, such systems-of-systems examination is difficult. But, be clear, the estimates of "cost" you are hearing are, almost certainly, pessimistic in overemphasizing "cost" by leaving out much of the "benefit" from the calculation.]

The opponents of change are intertwined, often the same Corporate interests, ready to use virtually any tactic tangible to fight against change.

We are talking, quite literally, of $trillions at stake in each of these. Real stakes … And, the opposition is playing like there are real stakes on the table.

Those people screaming at Members of Congress. They are being incited both by fossil-foolish interests and by health insurance groups. They are both being incited from Republican-affiliated groups (like Dick Armey’s and Newt Gingrich’s). Just as anti-health care groups use truthiness and astroturfing to flame “popular” discontent, so do fossil-foolish interests. Just as coal-related groups have engaged in fraud, so have anti health care reform groups. Just as …

The person screaming, frothing at the mouth, “Keep your hands of my doctor” was quite likely chanting with dreamy eyes “Drill, Baby, Drill”.

Both in terms of professional and in incited mob, the overlap of people, organizations, tactics is striking.

Six Degrees of Intertwining …

Thus, a brief discussion of how two major issues are so intertwined. (Please use comments to add more …)

Without question, moving toward a clean energy future (and climate-friendly policies) and moving toward (single-payer) universal health care coverage should be in the list of the top five priority items for every single American who calls themselves progressive. Should be top priorities for every American who wishes to help create a stronger future nation.

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