Gary Vaughn

 

There’s just no substitute for energy. Nothing happens without it. That applies to our bodies as well as to the world around us. Our own personal energy comes from the food we eat. Food is our fuel—and with a full tummy we can accomplish amazing things. But when we leverage our own personal energy with energy from external sources, then we are truly formidable.

 

We measure the energy content of our food in calories. We measure the energy content of our modern lifestyles in kilowatt-hours (kWh), British Thermal Units (BTU), Therms and various other units of energy. But energy is energy, so at a fundamental level, these labels are really just different names for the same thing.

 

We all understand the difference between “good” food and “bad” food, nutritious food and poisonous food. Even infants are instinctively picky about what they eat. Junk food, however, is something else entirely—it’s very cheap, it’s very convenient and it tastes great—because it’s designed that way. But it can have serious, even life-threatening, long-term side effects. Did I mention that making and selling junk food is very profitable?

 

How about a BTU or a kilowatt-hour? Is there such a thing as “junk” heat, or “junk” electricity? That would be energy that’s relatively cheap, that’s very convenient and that works great—because it’s designed that way. But it has serious, even life-threatening, long-term side effects. Did I mention that generating and selling junk energy is very profitable?

 

Sugar, salt and fat are the basic ingredients of junk food. Beneficial in moderate quantities, they become dangerous in excess. And junk food is all about excess—and money.

 

Coal, natural gas, and oil are the basic ingredients of junk energy. Beneficial in moderate quantities, they become dangerous in excess. And junk energy is all about excess—and money.

 

Our federal, state and local governments take some care to assure that we’re protected from many of the near-term risks involving our food supply. There are rules and regulations about food safety, labeling, chemical additives and storage. Your favorite restaurant is inspected regularly. But with very rare exceptions, governments don’t ban or restrict the type of food we eat. And in particular, governments pay very little attention to the long-term consequences of our food choices.

 

Likewise, our governments have various ways of controlling and regulating our energy supplies, but they don’t try to directly control the kinds of energy we use. And for the most part they pay very little attention to the long-term consequences of our energy choices.

 

Some of the largest and most profitable companies in the country are involved in designing, manufacturing, marketing and distributing junk food. And some of the largest and most profitable companies in the country are involved in “mining,” processing, marketing and distributing junk energy. In both cases, billions of dollars are involved—every day. And where there’s that kind of money, there’s power. And where there’s power, there’s influence. And where there’s that kind of influence—well, you know who will reap the short-term benefits, and who will pay the long-term price.

 

It’s obvious that Americans in general and New Mexicans in particular are becoming increasingly obese and are suffering serious long-term health consequences that are directly related to our diets. And it’s also obvious that our energy choices are directly related to long-term air, water and land pollution levels that threaten our ecosystems—not to mention global warming, which may well be the biggest challenge that we humans have ever faced. The scientific debate about global warming is over—it’s happening and we’re causing it. And the scientific consensus about the consequences of our food choices is clearer than it’s ever been. How have the big junk-food and junk-energy companies reacted?

 

The City Council of tiny Richmond, Calif. put a referendum on the ballot last November to impose a one-cent-per-ounce tax on high-sugar beverages. The big soda companies spent $2.5 million to defeat it. Big-oil and big-coal companies have been waging a war against renewable energy and have been attempting to discredit the science and the scientists warning us about global warming. In 2006, Indra Nooyi, the new chief of PepsiCo, set bold targets to reduce salt, fat and sugar in the company’s products. Shareholders revolted. They wanted PepsiCo to support moneymaking products, healthy or not. Ms. Nooyi had to back down.

 

Coal is the World’s Fastest Growing Major Fuel,” while “environmental groups and their funders would have people simply pay more or do without”

– A full page ad in the March 10, 2013 New York Times paid for by Peabody Energy.

 

Children (of all ages) are more likely to gorge on sugary foods than on wholesome ones. Ditto for tasty fat and savory salt. That leads us directly to the specter of our children facing off against an army of highly paid Ph.D. food scientists and psychologists, as well as packaging, marketing and sales experts. Seems like a fair fight to me. Let’s all ignore the pictures of obese children suffering from diabetes and the earliest signs of hypertension and heart disease. It’s their choice, after all. But at least now we know the real cost of our addiction to junk food.

 

All of us are more likely to gorge on cheap junk energy if the dark consequences are intentionally hidden from view. That leads us directly to the specter of our children facing off against an army of highly paid fossil-fuel and utility vice-presidents and lawyers, as well as slick public relations and lobbying experts. Seems like a fair fight to me. Let’s ignore the pictures of dying wildlife, asthmatic kids, and melting icecaps. Cheap and dirty junk energy is as all-American as—chicharrones! But as least now we know the real cost of our addiction to junk energy.

 

The bottom line is that we can continue to believe the junk-food and junk-energy companies’ fairy tales that tell us we should consume as much coal and cola as we want—that more is better. Or we can trust our own best instincts, along with the judgments of our most distinguished scientists, clean-energy experts and health professionals, and start to reclaim control of both our food and our energy. JUST SAY NO TO JUNK FOOD AND JUNK ENERGY!

 

 

 

Gary Vaughn is a licensed professional engineer, a renewable energy advocate, and president of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. www.NMSEA.org