Friday, December 11, 2009

Climate Advocates Should Build Ties With Public Health Community

As I've argued in several recent health-related posts, climate change solutions that clean up our air and water will help to substantially cut the nation's health care costs.

Now Grist takes up the mantle with a sharp post by Richard Graves.  Says Graves:

The health-care implications of climate policy are enormous, as shown by recent ground-breaking studies from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and The Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal. The National Academy of Sciences study, “Hidden Costs of Energy,” calculated that burning fossil fuels cost the American public $120 billion a year in health-care costs and premature mortality, measured in asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease. If the health burden of fossil fuels were scored like legislation, they would cost us $1.2 trillion dollars over the next 10 years—enough money to pay for health-care reform and leave hundreds of billions of dollars left over.

Coal power plants alone impose over $62 billion in health costs annually, according to the National Academy of Sciences, yet almost half of their impact on human health comes from the dirtiest 10 percent of plants. Those dirty coal plants together only supply about 5 percent of the nation’s electricity; replacing them with renewable energy sources could save almost $27 billion dollars a year in health costs.

The type of carbon cap envisioned by Congress, however, evaluates only the cost to emit greenhouse gases, not the co-pollutants sickening millions of American children and killing thousands every year. Under the legislation now being considered, the dirtiest, cheapest coal plants could be kept open indefinitely, with only nominal reductions in emissions, as they produce enough profit to purchase the offsets and permits needed to keep them open.

In fact, the health costs of coal pollution completely dispel the myth that coal power is cheap. The dirtiest coal plants are more than twice as expensive to operate as wind power, with health costs weighing in at a prohibitively expensive 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. A carbon market would have to require a price of $120 per ton of carbon to raise the price of coal power to its true cost to the communities downwind of its smokestacks. If a carbon cap is enacted, it’s unlikely that it will push carbon prices even close to that anytime in the near future.

The Lancet‘s recent study found that climate policy written without bearing health costs in mind was far more expensive, far less beneficial to communities, and left potential savings of tens of billions of dollars on the table. It found that “the measures needed to make the necessary reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions are those needed to protect and improve global health. Overall, what is good for tackling climate change is good for health.”

Well done.  We really need to be hearing much more about these numbers and their implications throughout the media -- both now during the health care debate and next spring in the run up to the Senate's debate over Kerry/Boxer.

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