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Monday, September 23, 2013

Studies: full climate and health costs of energy make renewables and natgas no-brainers, and switch save millions of lives

Two new studies strongly – and urgently - argue for a more realistic accounting of the true costs of energy and reducing global warming pollution.

The first study, published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences (JESS), says that wind, solar and natural gas are cheaper electricity sources than coal-fired plants if climate change costs and health impacts are measured.

The study used official U.S. government estimates of health and environmental costs from burning fossil fuels.  It concluded that if the costs to climate and public health of coal-fired power – what economists call externalities - were included in cost calculations, replacing coal plants with cleaner energy sources is a no-brainer.

Study co-author Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains the results of the study in this blog:
For existing generation, we find that after taking into account all their costs, including climate change and health impacts, it would be less costly to replace many existing coal plants with new cleaner generation than to keep them operating. Replacement power from wind, natural gas, and natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) would be justified based on the climate and health damages avoided by switching to these cleaner options. Under some scenarios, so would solar photovoltaic and coal with CCS.
Another new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, puts a human face on the same issue.  It says that greenhouse gas mitigation efforts would pay for themselves in health benefits alone.  The study finds that reduced emissions would prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths a year and save up to three million lives annually by the end of the century.

The paper says:
The benefits of avoided air pollution mortality [from particulates that aggravate illnesses such as asthma and emphysema, and ground-level ozone, a component of smog which triggers respiratory problems] justify substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, apart from other benefits of slowing global climate change.
The paper calculates health savings of up to $380 for every ton of CO2 removed from the earth’s atmosphere – and far higher in densely populated areas experiencing rapid industrialization. In China, emission reductions could deliver health savings as high as $840 per ton of CO2, according to the study.

Recognizing all of the costs of energy production – internalizing the externalities - is a huge regulatory, political, and societal challenge.

Do we have the wisdom and the will to meet it?  Millions of lives depend on it.

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