coal external costs air pollutants hidden costs

Coal Costs up to a Half Trillion Dollars Annually
electricity generation air pollution heart attacks heavy traffic corporate polluters

Billions to Save by Ending Polluter Giveaways

Breathing is an unwitting form of suicide for some unlucky people. They pay with their lives, others with their incomes and taxes. We trim, blend, and append three 2011 articles from: (1) Reuters, Feb 24, on smog by Kate Kelland; (2) Greenpeace, Feb 16, on coal by Molly Dorozenski; and (3) Friends of the Earth, Feb 24, on subsidies. FOE is the US voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries.

by Molly Dorozenski, by Kate Kelland, and by FOE

Air pollution triggers more heart attacks than using cocaine and poses as high a risk of sparking a heart attack as alcohol, coffee, and physical exertion.

Sex, anger, marijuana use, and respiratory infections and can also trigger heart attacks to different extents, the researchers said, but air pollution, particularly in heavy traffic, is the major culprit.

Tim Nawrot of Hasselt University in Belgium, who led the study, said, "Physicians are always looking at individual patients -- and low risk factors might not look important at an individual level, but if they are prevalent in the population then they have a greater public health relevance.”

"Of the triggers for heart attack studied, cocaine is the most likely to trigger an event in an individual, but traffic has the greatest population effect as more people are exposed to (it)," the researchers wrote. "Population-attributable fractions give a measure of how much disease would be avoided if the risk was no longer present."

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution causes around 2 million premature deaths worldwide every year.

While passive smoking was not included in this study, British researchers said last year that a ban on smoking in public places in England led to a swift and significant drop in the number of heart attacks, saving the health service 8.4 million pounds ($13 million) in the first year.

To see the whole article, click here .

JJS: Not only does pollution cost us our health, it costs us our money, too.

Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, details the economic, health, and environmental costs associated with each stage in the life cycle of coal -- extraction, transportation, processing, and combustion. These costs, between a third to over half a trillion dollars annually, are directly passed on to the public.

The report estimates $74.6 billion a year in public health burdens in Appalachian communities, with a majority of the impact resulting from increased healthcare costs, injury, and death. Emissions of air pollutants account for $187.5 billion, mercury impacts as high as $29.3 billion, and climate contributions from combustion between $61.7 and $205.8 billion. Heavy metal toxins and carcinogens released during processing pollute water and food sources and are linked to long-term health problems. Mining, transportation, and combustion of coal contribute to poor air quality and respiratory disease, while the risky nature of mining coal results in death and injury for workers.

Other sums related to economic and environmental damage include between $2.2 and $10 billion in impacts from land disturbances and $8.8 billion in related costs due to abandoned mine lands. Qualitative impacts include environmental damages and clean-up costs from toxic spills, declines in property values, timber resources, crop damage (due to water contamination), and loss of tourism.

“The public is unfairly paying for the impacts of coal use,” says Dr. Epstein. “Accounting for these ‘hidden costs’ doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh, making wind, solar, and other renewable very economically competitive. Our reliance on fossil fuels is proving costly for society, negatively impacting our wallets and our quality of life.”

Coal has produced approximately half of the nation’s electricity since 1995, and is currently the predominant fuel for electricity generation worldwide. With a projected increase in world energy demand, the demand for coal is expected to grow. To date, monetized information from the full life cycle has not been readily available.

To see the whole article, click here .

JJS: So we are already paying more for coal -- just not in our electric bill. If we paid more for coal in our electric bill, and less as doctor bills and taxes, then we might turn to a cleaner power source because the firms that could provide electricity without the negative side-effects could out-compete coal. Meanwhile, not only are we paying more being sick, we also pay the polluters to pollute us!

Damon Moglen, Climate and Energy Director at Friends of the Earth, spoke today at a congressional forum organized in response to the ongoing budget debate. Moglen, who was invited to speak by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), showed how Congress can cut tens of billions in giveaways to corporate polluters.

“This attempt to use the budget debate to roll back the Clean Air Act is an attack on the public health and our nation’s future economic success,” Moglen testified.

Moglen suggested eliminating giveaways to the oil and coal industries and other polluters.

“We can save over $15 billion dollars a year by ending subsidies for fossil fuels,” Moglen said.

For more information about environmentally friendly budget savings, see Friends of the Earth’s Green Scissors report.

To see the entire press release, click here .

JJS: Of all the paths to the total geonomic policy of sharing Earth’s worth, I bet the easiest (or least hard) first step would be to cut subsidies and save money. Yes, entrenched, grey industries enjoying lots of political clout would not be happy. But you’d think the vast public, ever eager to save money, would warm to the proposal.

Then, once we have the public’s attention, it might become possible to push the green tax shift levy charges so that people pay for the values they take (like clean air), not for the values they create (like a clean engine).

Once we replace taxes with land dues and subsidies with rent dividends, we the citizenry would be so much healthier and save so much money. But, since better living conditions make a region more desirable, “green” success would also push up the value of land. To make spendier land a win/win for everyone, we better have geonomics in place, meaning let’s recover and share the worth of Mother Earth.

If we all did have to pay land dues -- not to mention Ecology Security Deposits, Restoration Insurance premiums, winning bids for emission permits, and fines if we exceed limits -- we’d probably use our land and resources as carefully as possible. Our progeny would be pleased.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

The US President Going Green?

In Brazil, Washington, West Virginia, land workers die

Can a Freed Market Save Our Ecosystem?

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