Friday, October 14, 2011

Half Ton People

Today I'd like to engage you in a thought experiment. Imagine you have just accepted a position at a facility for the morbidly obese. But this is no ordinary facility. The people who inhabit it have been here for generations. They have always been allowed to eat as much as they want for as long as anyone can remember. As a result everyone's weight is in the high triple digits. All the problems associated with such extreme weights, such as immobility, are considered a normal part of life.

Your task is to put these people on a diet. The facility can no longer afford to provide them with all they can eat. From now on they will only have a diet of 3000 calories. How will you break it to them?

Now, for most of us, a 3000 calorie diet is still excessive (athletes and Amish farmers being two notable exceptions), but from their perspective of being able to eat as much as they can, it is a terrible restriction.  One objection they are sure to raise is that they can't possibly maintain their current body weight with such little food.  Of course, they would be correct.  You would have to try to convince them that there are considerable advantages to weighing less, like being able to walk.  But they would counter that they get along fine without walking.  You may be able to convince a few of them to see past the experiences of their lifetimes and the lifetime of everyone they've personally known, but most of them would simply not do anything until they are forced to.

So, how do you tell someone who is used to consuming 20 barrels of oil a year that within a few decades they will have learn to get by on 2?

We need to answer that question to get people back on track on the Long Ascent.

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