Winning against sugar and coal

THE solar monitor has just ticked over 3000kw and we are about to stuff ourselves over Christmas New Year, so it is as good a time as any to give an update on our solar experience and the long-term effect of my five-two diet, and to ruminate on the public policy surrounding them.

A little more than three years ago I went on the five-two diet. I was deeply sceptical of all diets, but this one was the result of BCC journalist and doctor Michael Mosely damning the diet industry and searching for something that worked.

Basically, you eat and drink nothing for two consecutive days a week and the other days you eat what you would normally eat.

It took 10 weeks to get rid of the 11.5kg to get me to normal body-mass index. Remarkably, you don’t binge when you come off the two starve days. By the end of the 10 weeks you lose your appetite for big meals.

Combine that with avoiding as much as possible processed food and drink which are laced with sugar, and, more than three years later, the weight remains gone.

In the past 30 years, policy-makers have ignored the rising sugar content in our diets.

Sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, may sound like a “natural” food, but because it is highly refined it contains plenty of calories, but absolutely no essential nutrients. As a result, it mainlines to the liver causing fatty liver disease. The sugar industry has attempted to divert the blame for obesity on too much fat in the diet. But fat consumption is not the problem, as blubber-eating Inuit on traditional diets attest. Sugar is. It is the driver of the current epidemic of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia, and Type 2 diabetes.

Our food-labelling laws are utterly ineffective. They simply do not tell you the percentage of sugar in food in an intelligible, legible way.

We should at least enable people to make an informed choice with tough labelling regulations. We should tie the type size of the contents information as a percentage of the size of the type of the brand name on any product. At present, marketers employ a suite of artful typographical weapons to make the words unreadable.

Further, we should impose a hefty tax on sugar to discourage consumption or at least to pay for the health damage if it fails to discourage consumption.

Alas, nearly all the federal electorates in the sugar belt are highly marginal, so the next generation, for the first time, are likely to have a shorten lifespan than the previous one.

Now to solar. I estimate that our 3000kw of electricity was worth about $7000. Not much went back into the grid because we do dishwashing, laundry and run the pool pump in middle of the day.

So we will pay for our system well before our nine-year projection when we installed it four years ago – allowing for interest etc.

Since then the price of solar systems has come down. They are more efficient. And the price of electricity keeps going up. Moreover, solar systems are becoming a good point when selling. It is a better investment than anything any financial planner can come up with.

Smart banks should be spruiking loans for solar to generate more profit.

Smart governments (which we certainly do not have at least at the federal level) would be doing more to encourage solar. The most important policy requirement is to address the 40 per cent of the market who rent and to address multi-unit sites.

On the former, landlords should be required to provide tenants with a basic amount of electricity as part of the lease, just as they have to provide other things. Tenants, usually on short-term leases, have no incentive to put up solar.

Planning laws should require new strata developments to include solar. Strata laws should make it easier for apartment blocks to put up solar and distribute it among unit holders.

It is simply unfair to deny renters and strata dwellers the benefits of this cost-saving technology, particularly as the federal government appears determined not to do anything intelligent or practical on the energy front.

At least the ACT Government has a solar-loan scheme for low-income earners.

This inequity will only get worse as electric cars become the norm, as they will with astonishing speed. Already economists are saying that in Japan and parts of Europe electric cars are cheaper over the car’s lifetime taking into account depreciation and running costs.

My guess is that it will take about the same time for practically the whole fleet to go electric as it took for the phase out of film cameras to digital cameras – less than eight years. No-one uses film now and all the film developing infrastructure is gone.

It will be the same for petrol cars, mechanics and servos which will incidentally accelerate the depreciation of petrol cars. So why should renters and unit dwellers miss out on free car battery top-ups?

Of course, smart governments would be rolling out fast-recharge stations across the country. Queensland has already begun. It is not only a matter of carbon emissions, but also public health. Emissions from internal combustion engines, especially diesel, contribute significantly to respiratory illness.

But with major parties, particularly the Coalition, taking corporate donations from the mining and food industries don’t expect any action on sugar or coal from the federal government. We will have to rely on individual action, some state governments and some enlightened non-climate denying business like BHP.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Fairfax Media on 23 December 2017.

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