Investing in Energy

By Michael Applebaum, MD, JD, FCLM

On August 14, 2003, shortly after 4 p.m. EDT, power outages started, heralding the largest blackout in U.S. history.  Over 9,300 square miles were affected including 80% of New York state, parts of New England, Ohio and Michigan and the cities of  Toronto and Ottawa, Canada’s largest and capital cities, respectively.


Politicians quickly began finger pointing, a dangerous thing to do in the dark since its always fun until someone gets poked-in and loses an eye.  Still, in typical politician fashion, each claimed the prophetic ability of the Delphic Oracle, and let the rest of us know that they “told us so.”  Funny how future-sight and hind-sight get confused when the lights go out.


Their consensus: money needs to be thrown at the problem to fix it.  Some estimates have put the cost of bringing the power grid up to date as high as $56 billion.


Where will the money come from?  Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation,” told us.  "Ratepayers obviously will pay the bill because they're the ones who benefit."


This 56 billion dollar figure has shocked many.  Especially the ratepayers, which means us.


As I look at the numbers, several questions come to mind:

  1. What is the cost per capita if only those directly affected are paying?

  2. What is the cost per American?

  3. How does $56 billion compare to some other costs we incur?

  4. Where were the resources for upgrading the energy grid that day?


Answer 1:            The blackout affected 50 million people.  If each person involved anted up the dollars necessary to fix the grid, it comes to $1120 (US).


Answer 2:            If each American contributed, the amount becomes roughly $203.64 (US).


Answer 3:            Compared to other costs we incur, the $56 billion fix looks like this:



The numbers show that the money we spend killing and disabling ourselves from eating too much and exercising too little is 11 times more than the cost of upgrading the entire nation’s electricity infrastructure.


Answer 4:            During the blackout the resources to upgrade the energy grid were stored as fat in the bodies of the 60% of American adults and 15% of children who are "overweight" or "obese," including the approximately 500,000 persons who will die prematurely from overeating and inactivity.


In the US, on average, each of us ingests more than twice the number of calories we need.  This gluttony is killing and sickening us.  It is also breaking the national bank.


Rather than invest in our own health and lives by preventing disease, we have chosen to squander resources on palliating these avoidable problems.  Resources once consumed are gone forever.


Perhaps the real energy crisis was not the one on August 14, 2003.  Maybe it is the one that keeps the light bulb from going off in our heads.