Professor: Gore Needs to 'Slim Down' for Environment

     Obesity may be unsightly to some, but it has a real impact on the environment and our use of gasoline according to one economist.

     Dr. Richard McKenzie, a professor of economics at the University of California-Irvine and author of “Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: And Other Pricing Puzzles,” attributed the increased carbon footprint to overweight Americans.

     He explained there are environmental implications, specifically the effects of obesity on global warming and pointed the finger directly at former Vice President Al Gore.

     “I am concerned about environmentalists who are advising other people to cut out the lights, drive less and buy smaller cars – and here they have an extra 20 or 30 inches around their waists,” McKenzie said to the Business & Media Institute on June 18. “They’ve got to understand that they can contribute also. You know, they want to tell everybody else what to do, well I’m throwing it back at Al Gore.”

     He suggested Al Gore could play a role as in setting example by losing weight to fight global warming.

     “It’s not that I don’t like what Al Gore’s saying, I’m saying, ‘Look, there’s something you can do too and that’s slim down … Al Gore could be an example and do it for environmental reasons. And, there have been calculations that the additional fuel consumption due to overweight [people] is adding somewhere close to 10 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

     McKenzie went on to link weight gain to some of the most hyped claims of possible climate change. “I’m not thoroughly convinced of all the global warming effects everybody says, but if in fact it is a problem – I don’t want to deny it either, it means that weight is contributing, however small, to the global warming problem – you know the break-up of the ice shelf and even the death of polar bears.”

     That wasn’t all. McKenzie also appeared on CNBC June 18 to emphasize that obesity has contributed to the nation’s energy problems – in a big way.

     “About two-thirds of all Americans are overweight, one-third of Americans are obese,” McKenzie said on “Squawk on the Street.” “Since 1960, Americans on average have gained about 24 pounds. That may not seem like much, but it amounts to about 3.6 million tons, or it’s 42 million 1960-equivalent Americans and this extra weight is being carried around literally on our backsides and in our cars and airplanes.”

      McKenzie said about a billion gallons of gas are being consumed now than would have had to be consume if Americans weighed the average weight of 1960.

     “All of this is very small,” McKenzie explained to BMI. “A billion gallons is only about seven-tenths of 1 percent of annual consumption. But when you have a supply that’s fairly price sensitive – it can cause several percentage points increase in the price of gas. And then you add the overweight people from around the world and you add the fact that people have to use gas in order to produce the calories that are ultimately packed on which are carried around – you got a real problem.”

     He offered the fact that some airlines are charging for extra luggage as an example. According to McKenzie, airlines have to use an additional billion gallons of jet fuel a year. American Airlines (NYSE:AMR) recently started charging passengers $15 per piece of checked luggage.

     “They’re having to, in fact, get rid of cargo just to accommodate the maximum lift-off weight,” McKenzie said. “[W]hen you have airlines that are teetering on financial disaster and they’re having to consume – one study gave it a $200 to $300 million of additional jet fuel a year. You know, those could be the straws that break the camels back.”

     McKenzie said with was just one of the factors involved with the price of gas and he emphasized the rapid expansion of China, India and Vietnam was a big factor. But he told BMI the trade-off for higher gas prices in the United States was cheap good from these Asian nations.