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Drink less, save the world (and yourself)

The consumption of alcoholic beverages is a custom found in many cultures worldwide, including our own. In fact, as the State Press recently reported, beer sales in the United States so far this year are up 1.4 percent over last year, despite the combination of declining real incomes and crushing inflation on the barest of necessities — health care, food, and gas prices.

Why is it that “some people would rather buy a six-pack of beer than a carton of eggs?”

More to the point, why shouldn’t that be the case? Let’s look at a few reasons:

• Public safety: According to The State Press, a large proportion (80%) of assaults at ASU are alcohol-related. One reason is that ethanol (the type of alcohol found in drinks) decreases judgment and coordination at blood concentrations as low as 0.03-0.06 percent, even before a person is “drunk.” The physical risks of intoxication thus reach well below the legal intoxication threshold.

• Public health: Ethanol consumption contributes directly to obesity, as well as indirectly causing many other problems by its addictive and mind-altering properties. According to numerous health-oriented Web sites, ethanol contains 7.1 calories per gram — almost twice as much as either carbohydrates or proteins (four calories per gram), and almost as much as pure fat (nine calories per gram). In fact, ethanol’s energy content is so high that it is used as a gasoline additive.

• Environmental problems: Aside from the litter of nonbiodegradable glass bottles and metal cans (often left unrecycled by judgment-impaired consumers), the production and transport of alcoholic beverages and their containers wastes large amounts of precious energy, at a time when world supplies are fast being depleted. For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, making a pound of aluminum — which makes about 30 cans — uses an average of 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This corresponds to about 0.25 kWh, or 900,000 joules of energy per can!

Even more energy is used in the process of fermentation by which alcohol is produced. Feeding barley or wheat to yeast for ethanol production is much less efficient than feeding people directly, just as raising animals for meat is less efficient than eating the grain ourselves.

The tons of grain (and grapes) that go into beer and wine production could feed far more hungry people than the amount of beer and wine produced. (To top it all off, ethanol is dehydrating — so alcoholic beverages actually don’t even satisfy your thirst; they increase it.)

• All the above arguments might be countered if ethanol were some sort of wonder drug that could add ten years to our lives … but is it?

Certain wines have been reported to decrease heart-disease risks, but only when consumed in limited quantities. Any such effect is also at least partly negated by increased cancer risk, which has been found even for low doses of alcohol.

The heart-health benefits certainly do not apply for overdoses of the magnitude that college students frequently consume. And even in small quantities, alcohol tastes terrible (as most drugs do), causes headaches and hangovers in many people, and still accomplishes nothing that a better diet couldn’t.

Ultimately, it is your choice whether to drink alcohol or not. But by reducing your consumption, you can save money and protect both yourself and the environment.

Kenneth can be reached by e-mail at

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