The last post we wrote described solar energy trapped in the earth in the form of fossil fuels, and how that is quite similar to the energy used to fuel the human body contained in a bacon cheeseburger. We would like to go into a deeper discussion on food energy vs. electricity production; specifically, how American eating habits pertain to American electricity consumption habits.

About two thirds of Americans are overweight and half of those are obese1. The rate of obesity is even higher for those Americans living in poverty. Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute argues that poor Americans are generally suffering not from too little food, but from too much of the wrong kinds of food2. Part of the problem is food subsidy programs, more commonly known as food stamps. Cheaper foods are more energy dense, meaning they have more calories, and the calories are of lower quality. Food stamps recipients are unfortunately incentivized to buy the cheapest, most heavily processed foods.

Corn and Soy farming are substantially subsidized by taxpayers, whereas subsidies for fruits and vegetables are almost nonexistent. The way farms are subsidized, some risk is taken out of farming grains and oil seeds, but not fruits and vegetables. Over half of the acres planted for food in the U.S. are corn and soy3. Only 4% of the acres planted for food in the U.S. are planted with fruits and vegetables. In fact, the government refers to fruits and vegetables as “specialty crops”. Take a look at why corn and soy are such important crops below:

So, a factor that fuels the American obesity epidemic is outdated subsidy models with growing crops, as well as food stamps. Another factor is that unhealthy foods, often, simply taste better. That’s not surprising, given the amount of artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and saturated fats that are in most unhealthy foods and drinks. Just one can of Cola has 138 calories and is mainly sugar (33 grams per can). The problem with sugary, fatty, processed foods is that they lead to many diseases, like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. And these diseases don’t just take a toll on individuals, but the nation as a whole.

From what we can tell, the government isn’t working on a youth serum, so why is it focused on “healthcare” after-the-fact? We need preventative healthcare so our aging population can live fuller, more productive, and functional lives.

Just like two-thirds of Americans being overweight affects everyone’s healthcare costs, and restructures the economy, people using dirty sources of energy not only destroys biodiversity but also negatively affects everyone’s health. This is most notable in parts of China, where the smog is so bad that the government advises people not to go outside on many days of the year.

Just like healthy eating, you have to take a long term outlook when it comes to using clean energy, which is notoriously hard for us humans. The upfront cost of a solar array may seem too large, and the payback period too long. The rewards come later, often much later, depending on the state you live in, in the form of free energy and energy independence, amidst rising energy costs. For example, the payback period for a residential solar array in Massachusetts is around 6 to 7 years, and often less. However, according to One Block Off the Grid, a solar array in Kansas has a payback period of around 19 years.

If you believe that you can’t possibly make a difference in the amount of pollution of the whole planet by putting a solar array on your roof, think again. Most of our business comes from referrals: that’s not us tooting our own horn; it’s us acknowledging that one person getting a rooftop solar array often has the effect of that person’s friends and relatives reevaluating their own energy consumption patterns. When you think about it, revolutions are started by small groups of people: look at the protests in Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and other countries, just in the past three years. Of course, not all of them have been successful, and political conflict is very different than fossil fuel dependence, but its individuals who have the ability to change things.

Showing your support for a future powered by clean energy doesn’t have mean installing a rooftop solar array; you can show your support by writing to your Congressman expressing your support for clean energy; you can vote to increase state-specific clean energy incentives; you can spread valuable information about renewable energy on social media; and you can teach your kids about the importance of clean energy. Ultimately it’s about setting an example.

Rising sea levels, decreased crop yield, polluted air, and hotter climate, among other things, may not affect you personally in your lifetime, but you can count on it affecting your kids and future generations. It’s like packing your child’s lunch and putting in Oreos for dessert versus blueberries, and wondering why your child grew up to be an obese adult. In the case of clean energy, it’s a choice of using coal versus sunshine and wind.

It’s quite simple: eat dirty foods and have an unhealthy body. Use dirty energy and have a polluted planet. Unfortunately, there are usually financial barriers to both solutions. For food, it’s sad that the cheapest calories are the unhealthiest calories. And for electricity, there are often large upfront costs to installing a solar electric system on your home; even with loans, there are certain credit rating requirements that must be met.

A question to ponder: If you could see the future, would you change what you’re doing today?

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, “Health, United States, 2008,” Table 75, www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus08.pdf.
2. Douglas Besharov, “We’re Feeding the Poor as if They’re Starving,” American Enterprise Institute, December 1, 2002, www.aei.org/include/pub_print.asp?pubID=31.
3. The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/farm-bill-why-dont-taxpayers-subsidize-the-foods-that-are-better-for-us/2014/02/14/d7642a3c-9434-11e3-84e1-27626c5ef5fb_story.html