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Friday, October 21, 2016

Opponents of carbon-reduction policies always argue that they’re too expensive. But a new study published in Nature Climate Change shows that popular proposals to cut carbon dioxide emissions not only help the environment, but can drastically lower health care costs. The savings in some scenarios are more than 10 times the cost of implementing the policies.

“If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don’t include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies,” the study’s lead author, Tammy Thompson, told

MIT researchers compared the health care and the economic costs of three different climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program. The clean-energy standard they used is similar to the carbon dioxide emissions reductions proposed in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which the agency proposed in June. The plan enforces tighter emission guidelines for power plants. As the EPA points out, “for every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan, American families will see up to $7 in health benefits.”

The MIT researchers calculated the health care savings by looking at avoided medical care and sick days. They also noted how changes in emissions levels reduce air pollution, which can cause asthma attacks and lead to heart and lung disease. In 2011, 231 U.S. counties had ozone pollution levels that were higher than the EPA’s standards. And in 2012, air pollution caused around 7 million global deaths, making it the world’s largest environmental health risk, according to the World Health Organization.

The researchers found that savings from reduced health problems due to lower pollution levels can reach 10.5 times the cost of implementing the policy. The health care savings were about the same for each of the policies, but the total savings depended on how much the policies themselves cost. The transportation policy, which would regulate the miles-per-gallon that consumers could use, was the most expensive policy; reduced health care expenditures mitigated only 26 percent of its cost. But savings from health benefits were up to 10.5 times the price of implementing a cap-and-trade program. Savings from a clean energy standard were also more than the cost of creating that program, with $247 billion saved versus its $208 billion price tag.

But health isn’t the only reason that the EPA has emphasized that the United States needs a strong emissions reduction plan. Global temperatures continue to rise, which will make extreme weather even worse. The costs of dealing with these natural disasters will also continue to rise.

Congress has not taken any action in reducing carbon emissions, which isn’t too surprising, as many politicians still don’t think Americans should be worried about global warming.

But more than half of Americans support the EPA’s carbon reduction proposal.

AFP Photo/Patrik Stollarz

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  • Dominick Vila

    Carbon emissions are polluting our environment, are influencing climate change, contribute to respiratory diseases, and like this article says, it contributes to rising medical costs, and cost U.S. companies millions of dollars in paid sick leave, and overtime pay required to cover absenteeism. Needless to say, they also cause disruption in productivity, and often result in customer dissatisfaction. The time to reduce our dependence on coal and oil, and switch to solar, wind, natural gas, and hydroelectric power plants is now. We are not going to stop our dependence on coal and oil overnight, but the transition to alternative – clean – energy must start ASAP if we want to save our environment and remain competitive.

    • Independent1

      I couldn’t agree more; and with the emphasis that alternative energies were given with Obama’s green energy stimulus, more progress has been made toward actually achieving what you’re suggesting than was thought possible when Obama took office.

      Research prompted by Obama’s green energy initiatives have resulted in exploring some additional energy sources to those you mentioned; work is now being done on trying to make plasma, the energy source of the sun, cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels (which would effectively create “the sun in a box”).

      A laboratory in New Jersey has successfully produced electricity via plasma generation which utilizes the most abundant element in the universe as the basis for its power – hydrogen. As with solar, the problem now is getting the costs down for producing electricity on a large scale basis. If they can succeed in getting the cost factor down, plasma electricity generation would effectively make fossil (including natural gas) and nuclear energy generation obsolete. Although natural gas is less carbon polluting than oil and coal, natural gas energy generation still contributes to global warming.

      And increased work has been done here in America the past 5 years on a form of hydro power that most aren’t familiar with, using the tides and waves to produce electricity. The University of Maine in my home state is experimenting now with some new ways to produce tidal power near easternmost points of America near East Port, Maine. For those not familiar with tidal energy, here is the link to some videos on how producing electricity using the tides and waves works:

      And for anyone interested in how moving America more toward using renewable energy sources might energy generation when the sun only shines during the day, here are a couple links to some articles on how Europe is working all that out (as is suggested in some of these articles – America needs to stop trying to reinvent the wheel and simply follow the lead of Europe to cut down costs and greatly simplify the paperwork needed to move households to solar and other renewable energies:

      • Dominick Vila

        Thank you for all the information and the links. Yes, we should not waste time trying to re-invent the wheel. One of the consequences of the brain washing we have been subjected to by the oil and coal industries is the fact that most Americans don’t believe alternative energy sources can satisfy many of our needs, while other industrialized have made enormous progress in that field. As a result, we now find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to learn and borrow from what others have already put in place and are benefiting from.
        It will be a long time before we get rid of our dependence on fossil fuels, but there is no logical reason to delay the pursuit of other energy sources to reduce our dependence on oil and coal. Especially, when we consider that in addition to reducing the impact of fossil fuels on our environment, the alternative energy industry offers outstanding job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and lower energy bills. It is a win-win proposition that we cannot afford to ignore.

        • Independent1

          Yeah! At the moment, the only hope I think the world has for moving away from fossil fuels entirely, is if those looking into plasma supported energy generation can succeed in making it cheap enough to compete with the price of oil and gas. Even Germany realizes that it will need some forms of fossil fuels as back up for at least the next 4 plus decades; Germany is shooting to get 80% of it’s electrical power consistently from renewables by 2050.

  • Allan Richardson

    When you talk of plasma generation, I assume you mean nuclear fusion, since burning hydrogen chemically does not solve the problem; hydrogen is not found on Earth except in combination with oxygen to make water and in combination with other elements to make fossil fuels or biofuels. Taking water apart to make free hydrogen takes more energy than is produced when hydrogen is burned in oxygen, so it is not a primary fuel (it can be a good way to TRANSPORT energy from a cheap, non-polluting primary source that requires large scale, such as dams, tidal or wind generators, or nuclear reactors, to small scale portable users such as automobiles).

    If nuclear fusion can be made to produce, reliably, MORE energy than what is needed to heat the hydrogen up to fusing temperature and contain it at fusing pressure, that would be, at least on Earth at the present time, the holy grail of energy sources. Plus, it would produce helium, which is currently a non-renewable resource (a “fossil non-fuel” if you will). And possibly a way to generate enough neutrons to make current nuclear waste into isotopes which would decay much faster, to avoid the multi-millennial storage problem.

    Please tell me about that lab in New Jersey.

  • bobnstuff

    I live near Pittsburgh and have seen just how much change has happened over the years in clean air. As a bonus we got cleaner water. Even lf Climate change wasn’t real improving the environment is worth the cost. The other side of the coin is that we have a limited amount of fossil fuels and they have value beyond just burning them, think plastic. Why waste them. The republicans complain about the war on coal and how it is kills jobs. Here are two facts. The coal industry isn’t that big anymore, just 141,000 people total or to put it another way, half as many people then work for Home Depot. Second fact, there are more people working in the solar industry then in coal.

  • ralphkr

    The real problem is that the polluting fuel users, especially coal, only see the increase in costs and the overall savings means nothing to them because entities such as the Kochs see no way to enhance their profits through cleaner environment so they shall fight it to the death.

  • Bar Abbas

    More than 600,000 bats were killed by wind turbines in 2012 – a serious blow to creatures which pollinate crops and help control mosquitoes.