There’s one massive benefit to fighting climate change nobody is talking about

Jul 24, 2015 by

It might not be the forests or the plains most helped by clean energy, but the human body

, Scientific American

There's one massive benefit to fighting climate change nobody is talking about (Credit: Flickr/Nicola Jones)
This article was originally published by Scientific American

Scientific American

Moving to clean energy technologies could benefit public health today and save us billions of dollars, according to a new report from The Lancet medical journal.

In “Health and Climate Change: policy responses to protect public health” a group of European and Chinese academics built upon a 2009 report in The Lancet that outlined the expected public health impacts of climate change (full disclosure – the group of academics includes the author of this post). These impacts include increasing instances of respiratory, cardiovascular, and vector-borne diseases as well as undernutrition and mental health challenges.

But, even more immediately, the authors discuss how moving away from carbon-intensive energy technologies could improve public health today by reducing other types of air pollution including particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The core of this discussion lies on the fact that energy technologies that produce greenhouse gases also often produce these other air pollutants simultaneously. For example, diesel and gasoline vehicles, coal power plants, biomass (for example, wood and charcoal) for cooking, and many industrial processes (for example, mining, cement manufacturing, and smelting) all produce both carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM).

These other air pollutants lead to higher rates of illness and premature death in exposed populations.

In the United Kingdom, air pollution from coal power plants is responsible for an estimated £3.1 billion per year in added health costs to treat conditions including lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. Overall, air pollution from the UK’s power sector is responsible for approximately 3,800 premature deaths each year due to respiratory disease alone. Each year, pollution from the UK’s transportation sector leads to 7,500 premature deaths across the country.

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