A diet to save the world
Worried about your calorie count? You will be.
This article is about why the calories we consume make it so difficult for democratic societies to tackle climate change. If that sounds ridiculous then please bear with me.
We normally only worry about what the calories in our food will do to our waistlines, but calories can also be used to measure the energy in fuel.
What do you think your total calorie count would be if instead of calculating the energy you need to eat to stay healthy you added up all the energy you use to keep yourself warm, to travel around, to produce the food you eat and the entertainment you enjoy?
The difference between those two figures - how much it takes to keep us alive and how much energy we actually use - is a measure of the challenge that tackling global warming presents.
It also explains why democracies may never be able to get to grips with the problem.
I'll come to the actual figures soon, first let's explore the link between calorie counting and the big issues.
It's pretty simple really. In most modern societies the vast majority of the calories we use come from not from food but from fossil fuels. And fossil fuels - as everyone now knows - produce greenhouse gases which, in turn, cause climate change.
We all now also know the risks that climate change presents. We know that, if unchecked, scientists expect it to cause droughts, floods and storms which will disrupt agricultural production around the world and lead to famines, mass migration and conflict.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking he's about to lay a dieting metaphor on me. And you are right - but only up to a point.
Of course a diet is the answer. Cut out all those fossil fuel calories we use and bingo! Problem solved. My question is whether our political systems will ever be able to put us on the diet the world needs.
Anyone who has been on a diet knows how unpleasant and difficult it can be. And make no mistake this fossil fuel diet is going to be uncomfortable too.
Fossil fuels are an extraordinarily concentrated energy source and moving to alternatives will have a cost. It will mean we have to change the way we do things, and many people will find that difficult and unsettling.
Regulating or taxing fossil fuel use will raise the price of energy and -at least in the short run - that's going to push up the price of pretty much everything.
Bizarre as it might sound, that may not actually mean we pay more. If you improve the insulation in your home or drive a more fuel efficient vehicle then energy prices can rise and you still end up paying less.
What's more higher prices for energy from fossil fuels should spur a move to renewable energy sources and make them much cheaper in the long run.
But the key point is this. Along the way it will mean some sacrifices and some big changes and many people are going to find that uncomfortable.
What is more, the systemic nature of the changes that are needed mean we can't expect individuals to do it on their own. This diet is going to have to be forced on us by government - which is where the tricky little problem of democracy comes in.
The challenge for democracy is this: will we - the electorate - ever vote for a government that will force us to use less fossil fuel?
President Obama said he'd try and do just that. You can see what happened to his promise and follow my madcap journey around America on BBC2 tonight at 7.00pm.
Of course, democratic societies have risen to some pretty big challenges in the past. They've overcome war, depression and social upheaval.
But climate change is a bigger challenge than even a world war.
Climate change requires people to recognise the need for a unique trade-off. We need to agree to make sacrifices now - the diet - to deal with a threat that lies way in the future.
And democracies tend to be poor at long term planning. Unpopular politicians don't get elected and telling people they have to make sacrifices is not going to make a politician popular unless there is a damn good reason.
Most voters would recognise that the German army threatening to invade is a good reason. The threat of global warming is a tougher proposition.
It requires that the electorate believe the science. They need to believe that the invisible gases produced by the very activities that make modern life so comfortable will slowly make the world less and less inhabitable.
And science is contestable. Just take a look what happened when I appeared on an American talk radio show.
Like dieters who find excuses to have that one cream cake or another glass of red wine: people are going to find excuses to avoid a fossil fuel diet.
And the tougher the diet, the more likely people are to try and avoid it. So what's our calorie count?
The average woman needs 2,000 calories a day to stay healthy. Men get a bit more. We need 2,500 calories a day.
In America the average person uses the equivalent of 216,728 calories every day, not including food - over 100 times more.
In Britain we use around half the amount of energy - a which works out at around 106,000 calories a day. It is more modest, but still a huge daily diet of calories.
So here's the big question, will democratic politicians be able to tackle climate change in societies as energy-hungry as ours?
The truth is that ultimately only you the voter can answer that question - at the ballot box.