Health News Digest

November 15, 2010

The Environment And Health Care

The 1.8 billion dollar man

By  Michael D. Shaw

John F. Groom is a writer and publisher with multiple credits in a variety of media. One of his latest projects is entitled The 1.8 Billion Dollar Man, and is currently available as an e-book. The provocative title refers to the annual cost for the Obama White House.

However, the book is far from a partisan screed. Instead, the work provides an introduction into just how large and often wasteful the federal bureaucracy has become. Among many other findings, Groom discovered that even after adjusting for inflation, the entire Palace of Versailles could be completely rebuilt every single year for what it costs to support the current US President.

The environmental angle here is really quite simple. No organization can be Green, or even claim to support such a notion if it is this big and bloated. Moreover, under these rubrics, there cannot be some sort of exemption for the White House, just because it is the White House. Either the future of the planet is at stake, or it isn’t. Of course, Obama’s is by no means the first profligate White House.

Nor is he the first president to talk about cutting spending, never considering the expenses closest to himself.

In my interview with Groom, he pointed out that invariably, financial costs are intimately related to environmental costs. A big car costs more to purchase and maintain, while causing more environmental damage. Likewise, a presidential trip that “requires” five helicopters instead of one costs more in both money and environmental impact.

I asked him why the public does not seem to react to extravagant and questionable activities by celebrities, such as high overhead concerts for this or that cause, or private jet trips around the world made to convince the little people that they should care more for the environment. His reply was most enlightening.

First of all, given this era of instant communications and myriads of media sources, the public could well be aware of many iniquities, but might also be suffering from data overload, and thus be thrown into apathy. As to the seeming lack of shame on the part of the offenders, he refers to an insidious and synergistic combination of a sense of entitlement, detachment from reality, and an obsession with personal gratification at any cost.

Since leaders and tastemakers see no need to curtail their excesses, these actions speak far more powerfully than their words, so most of the public remains uninspired, and few will change their bad environmental habits.

Note that the outward actions of the elite can be both obviously negative, as described above, or foolishly symbolic. While attacks on SUVs and other gas guzzlers appear to have merit at first blush, consider the huge savings in energy consumption and environmental impact that would be realized—quite easily—if office workers were merely allowed to telecommute and teleconference on a much grander scale.

Groom emphasizes another factor: The disappearance of personal responsibility. While the history of this phenomenon could be traced back to paternalistic government programs within the New Deal, and perhaps even earlier, Groom maintains that it really took off during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when psychologists mainstreamed the notion that your problems are the result of someone else’s oppression.

The 1980s would launch the meme of no personal responsibility into the stratosphere. Groom notes that more civil suits were filed in the 1980s in America than in all the previous years combined. As he wryly puts it, “All of a sudden, everyone is blaming everyone for everything, while trying to figure out a way to make money on it.”

Which brings us to health care. Groom says that more than 70% of all medical treatment is related to conditions that are lifestyle-induced. But, why should anyone change bad habits, if they’re not his fault? Besides, isn’t there a drug for that?

I guess the late Michael Jackson was onto something in 1988 with “Man in the Mirror.”