Tuesday Energy Blogging – Fossil Fuel Kills

20 Oct 2009 08:42 pm
Posted by: Donna

Hi y’all. Thought I’d bring this to your attention if you hadn’t seen it already. From the NYT:

WASHINGTON ā€” Burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution, the National Academy of Sciences reported in a study issued Monday.

The damages are caused almost equally by coal and oil, according to the study, which was ordered by Congress. The study set out to measure the costs not incorporated into the price of a kilowatt-hour or a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel.

The estimates by the academy do not include damages from global warming, which has been linked to the gases produced by burning fossil fuels. The authors said the extent of such damage, and the timing, were too uncertain to estimate.

Stuff like this is what pointy-headed business wonks like to call “externalized costs”. It’s analogous to what is described as “collateral damage” by pointy-headed military strategists. The rest of us know it as “I can get sick and/or die because of sh*t you did to make money”.

I’m not usually comfortable with expressing the enormity of human tragedies in terms of dollar value because it opens the door to the acceptance of tragedies if allowing them to happen costs less. For example, some researchers claim that smoking actually lowers health care costs because smokers die earlier and that offsets the high cost of the diseases associated with smoking since smokers are less likely to use nursing care. Back in 1991, Obama advisor and former Harvard president Larry Summers wrote a memo arguing that exporting high-pollution industries to poor countries was cost-efficient because the people who lived in them die young for other reasons and probably wouldn’t live long enough to succumb to the diseases produced by industrial discharge. Seriously, he wrote that memo.

So you can understand why I’m leery of selling anything that saves lives and improves health on the prospect that it will Save! Money! But since we’re in the midst of a big debate on health care reform, with costs figuring prominently in the dialogue, I’ll make an exception: Getting off fossil fuels would save a lot of dough on health care costs. And a lot of lives. I’ll leave it to your moral compass to figure the order of priorities.

1 Comment(s)

  1. Comment by RC on November 6, 2009 12:46 pm

    “Iā€™m not usually comfortable with expressing the enormity of human tragedies in terms of dollar value”

    This is why directly comparing clean alternatives to traditional investments is such an illuminating and important approach.

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