The primary aim of the One in a Billion project is to contribute to the mitigation of the multifaceted sustainability crisis bearing down on us (summarized here). As discussed in the first action plan post, each of the ten major categories covered in the One in a Billion project will be closed by three posts discussing the potential for crisis mitigation, the benefits to individuals implementing the strategy and the primary resistances to change that individuals are likely to experience. This first post will look at the potential for crisis mitigation under five categories:
- Climate change – carbon footprint reduction
- Resource depletion – ecological footprint reduction
- Economic crisis – sovereign debt reduction
- Social inequality – increase in social mobility
- Societal complexity – reduction in interdependence and increase in adaptability
The estimates given below represent the potential impact if the average American implemented these strategies and reduced his/her need for healthcare by a factor of five. As discussed in some previous posts (1, 2, 3), this is certainly possible and, as illustrated in the figure below, a number of countries already spend less than 20% of the massive American sum while actually achieving a greater lifespan (you can also confirm this yourself on Gapminder.org). (American statistics are used simply due to the large pool of available data.)
Living a healthy lifestyle based on a nutrient-rich plant-based diet and more travelling on foot or by bicycle can truly make tremendous dents in the average carbon footprint, but this will be covered in subsequent categories. Here we will only look at the carbon footprint of actual medical services themselves. The US healthcare sector accounts for roughly 8% of total CO2 emissions, implying that the American carbon footprint could be cut by 6.4% if people simply looked after themselves.
About 4.3% of the American ecological impact comes from medicine, implying that a factor of five reduction in health service consumption could slice off a good 3.4%.
This is the area in which better health can make the biggest direct impact. Based on the 2011 budget, the US currently pays about 36% of its tax revenues directly back in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. A healthy population would require about 20% of this sum, allowing the US to slash its spending by $668 billion (18.6% of total spending) and slash the humongous budget deficit by 53%. In addition, the increased productivity from a healthy population would increase the tax base. The average American worker takes about 14 days of sick leave per year for own illness and to care for the illness of a family member. Cutting this number by a factor of 5 gives 11 extra days or about 4.5% extra working time. If this translates in a 4.5% increase in the tax base, another $104 billion could be collected to further reduce the deficit.
Illness is a massive problem for poor people and this is where a culture of excellent personal health can work miracles. Such a culture of excellent personal health within the billion wealthiest individuals will make healthy living a whole lot easier by forcing government and private enterprise to adapt to consumer demand and greatly increase the availability and affordability of organic plant-based whole foods instead of processed meat-based junk foods. This will make healthy living much more accessible to the poor, giving them an honest chance at the radiant health required to build a much better life.
Poor health significantly increases the interdependence and vulnerability of society. A person on five different kinds of permanent medication is completely dependent on the manufacturers of this medication, the insurance company financing this medication and the science behind it (which is sometimes dangerously sloppy). On the other hand, healthy individuals are fully independent and will be able to adapt to the future environmental, economic and societal shocks that are heading our way.
- Climate change – 6.4% reduction in carbon footprint
- Resource depletion – 3.4% reduction in ecological footprint
- Economic crisis – $772 billion (33.5% of total tax base) saved and gained
- Social inequality – large potential to alleviate inequality
- Societal complexity – large reduction in interdependence and increase in adaptability