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Are these scientists really trying to improve public health?

No, they are trying to cut energy usage and thus carbon emissions - for all that this is not their job nor their field of expertise. We can be sure that they don't know much about energy, in fact, as their saving of 59 kcal/day per adult is tiny: this is 0.07 of a single, measly kilowatt-hour. A human being, for these purposes, can be considered as a mobile space heater using about 3 kilowatt-hours of food energy per day, so the saving on human food energy we could achieve by stunting our kids is just 2.3 per cent.

And it gets worse. Food energy is not a big deal in terms of human energy consumption, except among primitive savages. Citizens of developed nations use far more energy for heating and cooling, for instance (a lot of this is heating water to provide the modern hygiene so critical to our high standards of health - and cooling to keep food safe and healthy to eat). This is true even though our highly productive farming is relatively energy intensive, so that it takes 15 kilowatt-hours per day per Briton to produce our 3 kWh-worth of food and a bit more to bring it to us: but that 15 kWh is only a small proportion of the 195 kWh per day it takes to keep each Brit ticking over.

In other words, the energy savings we would make by starving and malnourishing ourselves to Japanese heights and weights would be utterly, totally insignificant: 2.3 per cent of that 15 kWh comes to about 0.35 kWh/day, or 0.18 of one per cent of the energy we now use, with roughly corresponding carbon reductions.

What an astonishingly silly thing to suggest. It really does tend to lower the status of science and peer-reviewed publishing - not to mention that of the medical profession - that this sort of twaddle (pdf) is considered to be serious, publishable research worthy of debate (blame the open-access journal BMC Public Health in this case).

Needless to say, once freed even from the lax editorial controls of peer review, Prof Roberts goes further still. He has also written a book called Energy Glut. Among other things the prof feels that the roads should be largely cleared of motor vehicles so as to cut emissions, get rid of the scourge of flab and eliminate danger to cyclists.

Some selected passages:

Under a system of carbon rationing, there would be a strong incentive to reclaim the streets from motor vehicles ... Legislation could be passed to give pedestrians legal right of way ... physical fitness would start to improve ... Market forces would eventually ensure that those access needs that are not met within a cycle ride soon would be.

Sedentary home-based activities like watching television, playing computer games or surfing the net, might become less popular as people become reluctant to use up carbon credits on home heating and electricity Use. People would begin by insulating their homes and wearing warmer clothes. The street space would become a public space, and public activities would replace sedentary solitary indoor pastimes ... processed foods would become more expensive than locally grown seasonal fruit and vegetables.

And then, fruitcake mode at full power:

They blame you for being killed on the roads, they blame you for getting fat, and they will blame you when the planet fries.

The media are gagged due to their financial dependence on advertising income from motor vehicle manufacturers, air travel and distant holidays and are understandably reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. So it remains a secret ...

Currently, because it reserves the interests of the businesses that make up the petro-nutritional complex, all roads lead to the shopping mall and all the malls look the same.

Damn that sinister petro-nutritional complex, anyway.

The prof evidently doesn't know or care that without motor vehicles the government would not be able to afford any roads for cyclists and pedestrians to use - indeed it would also not be able to afford various other things, as it makes a lot more from the vehicle and fuel taxes than it spends on roads.

As for the idea that cycling is dangerous, this really doesn't hold water. You have to cycle more than 20 million miles in the UK, spending hundreds of years in the saddle, before it's likely that you'll be killed. There's a lot of foolish fear of motor vehicles among UK cyclists or potential UK cyclists, but it's largely unjustified.

Rather than demanding an end to motoring and some kind of hellish 19th-century-slumdweller street-based lifestyle without telly or video games or heating (and complete with malnourished, dwarfish children) it might be nice if Professor Roberts and his crew got back to work on actually improving public health. If they are truly concerned about carbon emissions, they would do well to learn something about the subject - but not on the taxpayers' time. ®

Full Disclosure: Lewis Page stands 6'3" and weighs a tad over 16 stone (BMI = "Overweight"). In former days when properly fit he weighed over 17 stone ("Obese"). He is fortunate enough to live close enough to his place of work that he can reach it by cycle in (much) less time than it takes to use public transport - driving is not an option due to parking - and as such he commutes by cycle come rain or shine through the not-so-scary London rush hour traffic, spending a bit over an hour a day in the saddle. At that rate he can expect to be killed in around 6000 years.

The Register gains only negligible and intermittent revenue from motor vehicle advertising and none at all from the aviation or travel sectors, more's the pity. And we are quite happy to bite the hand that feeds us anyway.

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