Friday, July 30, 2010

My Big Fat Tax

Fat, Climate and Farming

By John Taylor; 2010 July 30, Kalimat 17, 167 BE

In this posting:

Fat Taxes
No Change in Climate Change
Local Farming Initiative

Fat Taxes

Consider this news item:

"Leading British doctors will urge the UK government Monday to impose a `fat tax' on junk food and introduce cigarette-style warnings to children about the dangers of poor diets and products high in fat, salt or sugar. [an expert says that] ... the consumption of unhealthy food should be seen to be just as damaging as smoking or binge drinking. `Thirty years ago, it would have been inconceivable to have imagined a ban on smoking in the workplace or in pubs, and yet that is what we have now, are we willing to be just as courageous in respect of obesity? I would suggest that we should be.' The doctors are also demanding a tough government action plan to stop fast-food chains opening outlets near schools, restrict the advertising of products high in fat, salt or sugar, and limit sponsorship of sports events by fast-food companies such as McDonald's." (British docs demand 'fat tax' on junk food

Also suggested were "fast food free zones" in city planning, and a ban on advertising of garbage foods -- indeed, it occurs to me, why not force them to call a spade a spade on their labels? Why not stick a big warning label on the front: "This food is rated 8 out 10 on the garbage food scale of the World Dietician's Association."

A fat tax would hardly be popular with the public, especially now that the majority in Western nations are obese themselves -- or should I say, ourselves, since I am a good fifty pounds overweight. Few politicians, therefore, would dare touch this issue, urgent as it may be. I must think differently from most fatties, since I look down at my ugly waistline and dream of an economy where sweet and sugary food was expensive and good food was cheap.

No Change in Climate Change

Nor are things going well in the climate change department, also an urgent priority. The obvious policy change would be to impose a carbon tax, but again, any new tax would be unpopular. The U.S. government just effectively rejected any serious action against carbon emissions. In his NY Times column, economist Paul Krugman explains why,

"So it was not the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it? The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice. If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole would not be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries above all, the coal and oil industries would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines."

"Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you will find that they are on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades. Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer. (

Krugman rightly points out what the real cause of this dithering is: attachment to ideology. Even when it becomes self-contradictory to the point of absurdity, the rich cling to their shibboleths,

"It has always been funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, to watch conservatives who laud the limitless power and flexibility of markets turn around and insist that the economy would collapse if we were to put a price on carbon. All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy's growth rate."

This is why I think that the next Einstein will not be a physicist but an accountant or game designer. Not even an economist, but a genius with numbers who can make the numbers vivid using charts, displays and incentives.

A Local Farming Initiative

I recently bought a "share" in a cooperative farming effort called "Shared Harvests," pushed largely by a local farmer and a local physician, Reza Kazemi (an Iranian Muslim). It costs twenty five bucks to get a basket full of produce every week. I blanched at the price of what I was getting, but Reza pointed out that the group is called, "Triple Bottom Line for Sustainability Inc.," -- you have to write it all out on every check -- because as consumers we have to be aware when we are paying for something that the money should go to those who produce it, that there are three bottom lines, "financial, environmental and social responsibility and sustainability." I still blanched at what I was getting for what I had paid, but my responsibility self-image rose a little.

I got my first "share" of produce last week and was forced to do something with a big batch of kale, which I had only seen in cans before that. I steamed it up and it kept me in meals for a few days. It was good soaked with olive oil. Since I eat two cobs of microwaved corn every day, I held my cob of corn over the kale and soaked it in the extra olive oil. Here are some interesting facts extracted from their newsletter,

"There is a farm income crisis happening in North America. Farmers on average have been earning incomes below the poverty line for 15 of the last 20 years according to the National Farmers Union. The average age of a farmer in Canada is 52.6 and increasing yearly and the family farm is decreasing at a rapid rate. These are troubling facts, endangering the very existence of rural communities that have relied on small family farms for its sustainability and prosperity. It also endangers our food security. ... millions of Canadians including many of us in Dunnville spend long hours and resources caring for our grass instead of growing food; and millions of tons of local food perish due to lack of manpower to harvest it!"


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