Giving Up Hamburgers To Save The Planet

Megan McArdle wrote a nice piece about why she opposes national health care. It’s well-reasoned and well-written and you should read the whole thing. For purposes of this post I want to focus on one point she made.

Here is what she had to say:

The other major reason that I am against national health care is the increasing license it gives elites to wrap their claws around every aspect of everyone’s life.  Look at the uptick in stories on obesity in the context of health care reform.  Fat people are a problem!  They’re killing themselves, and our budget!  We must stop them!  And what if people won’t do it voluntarily?  Because let’s face it, so far, they won’t.    Making information, or fresh vegetables, available, hasn’t worked–every intervention you can imagine on the voluntary front, and several involuntary ones, has already been tried either in supermarkets or public schools.  Americans are getting fat because they’re eating fattening foods, and not exercising.  How far are we willing to go beyond calorie labelling on menus to get people to slim down?

These aren’t just a way to save on health care; they’re a way to extend and expand the cultural hegemony of wealthy white elites.  No, seriously.  Living a fit, active life is correlated with being healthier.  But then, as an economist recently pointed out to me, so is being religious, being married, and living in a small town; how come we don’t have any programs to promote these “healthy lifestyles”?  When you listen to obesity experts, or health wonks, talk, their assertions boil down to the idea that overweight people are either too stupid to understand why they get fat, or have not yet been made sufficiently aware of society’s disgust for their condition.  Yet this does not describe any of the overweight people I have ever known, including the construction workers and office clerks at Ground Zero.  All were very well aware that the burgers and fries they ate made them fat, and hitting the salad bar instead would probably help them lose weight.  They either didn’t care, or felt powerless to control their hunger.  They were also very well aware that society thought they were disgusting, and many of them had internalized this message to the point of open despair.  What does another public campaign about overeating have to offer them, other than oozing condescension?

Of course, the obese aren’t the only troublesome bunch.  The elderly are also wasting a lot of our hard earned money with their stupid “last six months” end-of-life care.  Eliminating this waste is almost entirely the concern of men under 45 or 50, and women under 25.  On the other hand, that describes a lot of the healthcare bureaucracy, especially in public health.

I thought she made a pretty powerful point about the desire of elites trying to control others lives. I sort of mentally filed it away and then it came flying out of my subconscious when I read another post today.

This one was from Ezra Klein at the Washington Post and though he writes endlessly about health care, today he took a break and got back on climate control. Now I have to admit that I hadn’t run into this one before. Mr. Klein’s article was about the contribution that livestock make to global warming — OK we’ve all chuckled about that one — but the thrust of the article was that restricting our intake of meat would have a major impact on global warming.

Mr. Klein is a card carrying member of the left wing of the Democratic party so I assume that this is a legitimate item of discussion among the climate control zealots. Actually he pretty much confirms that it is by pointing out that a United Nations panel has recommended giving up meat once a week to help the planet. He also adds that this seems to be a subject that none of the more prominent environmental groups want to touch with a ten foot pole.

Mr. Klein to his credit lives his philosophy:

It’s also worth saying that this is not a call for asceticism. It’s not a value judgment on anyone’s choices. Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it’s better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more. It would be a whole lot better for the planet if everyone eliminated one meat meal a week than if a small core of die-hards developed perfectly virtuous diets.

I’ve not had the willpower to eliminate bacon from my life entirely, and so I eliminated it from breakfast and lunch, and when that grew easier, pulled back further to allow myself five meat-based meals a month. And believe me, I enjoy the hell out of those five meals. But if we’re going to take global warming seriously, if we’re going to make crude oil more expensive and tank-size cars less practical, there’s no reason to ignore the impact of what we put on our plates.

All I could think about after reading his article was Megan’s comment about giving license to elites to “… wrap their claws around every aspect of everyone’s life.” I know it seems fanciful that someone might someday tell you that you had a burger limit for the week but as Mr. Klein points out if we are to take global warming seriously we can’t ignore the facts.

The climate control clique gladly argues for the imposition of taxes on hydrocarbons in order to drive their prices up and discourage consumption. Wouldn’t it make perfect sense to use, say a meat tax, to control the consumption of food that might also have a negative impact on climate? It sounds silly now but would it in a few years?

Look, I don’t want to beat up on Ezra Klein. He just happened along today with a perfect example of how attempts to insert government to deeply into the society can lead to unimaginable interference with the manner in which individuals choose to lead their lives. Health care, climate control and a lot of other things rattling around Capitol Hill these days provide way too much opportunity for the planners to work their perfect solutions at others expense.

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