Clean energy could save US lives up to $ 700 billion a year ”Yale Climate Connections

The case for climate solutions has long been hampered by the decades it will take for investments made today to yield benefits in the form of less extreme weather impacts. Carbon dioxide pollution remains in the atmosphere for more than a millennium, and therefore efforts to reduce carbon emissions will only slowly turn the curve of global warming. The clean technologies deployed today will not lead to significant changes in extreme weather conditions until around the middle of the century.

Forcing people to support climate solutions therefore generally requires appealing to their best natures; invest in protecting the future quality of life of today’s children. People often find it difficult to make decisions based on such long-term considerations.

But as a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concludes, tackling climate change brings immediate benefits in the form of cleaner air, leading to healthier and longer lives. . The paper was written by 11 scientists from Duke and Columbia Universities and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), including lead author Drew Shindell, who has published more than 250 peer-reviewed climate studies over the past 25 years. years, and the director of NASA’s GISS. Gavin Schmidt.

The study estimates that Americans would value the benefits of a longer life associated with cleaner air at $ 700 billion per year over the next two decades – a number well above the costs of climate solutions.

Promoting a longer and healthier life through cleaner air

In addition to pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, burning fossil fuels also releases other air pollutants that create higher levels of ozone and easily breathable fine particles like PM.2.5. Ozone can worsen lung diseases like asthma and emphysema, while PM2.5 can lead to premature death in people with heart problems or lung disease and can also make asthma worse. A 2018 study, also published in PNAS, found that outdoor PM2.5 air pollution is considerably more harmful to human health than previously believed.

These results have been incorporated into this new research, which estimates that in 2020, PM2.5 and ozone pollution caused 191,000 and 57,000 premature deaths in the United States, respectively, compared to 17,000 heat-related deaths. If the United States followed a path to meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures, many these premature deaths would be avoided (19% of PM2.5 and 57% of ozone deaths over the next two decades; 31% and 77% until 2070, respectively).

In total, nearly 1.4 million premature deaths in the United States would be prevented through 2040 and 4.5 million through 2070, compared to a business-as-usual scenario. And those longer lives would also be healthier because people breathe cleaner air.

Supporters of the fossil fuel status quo might ask: Are these healthier, longer lives worth the cost of transitioning to a clean energy economy? Since many studies, including a new working paper from Oxford, have concluded that faster transitions to clean energy will also be cheaper in the long run, it’s hard to say otherwise.

But how much do we value a longer, healthier life? This is a subjective moral question that scientists address using a concept known as the ‘value of a statistical life’, which can be estimated, for example, by asking people how much they would be willing to pay. to reduce their risk of death in any given year. Based on this approach, Americans would estimate the reduction in health risks associated with decreasing air pollution at about $ 14 trillion over the next 20 years, or $ 700 billion per year. The new PNAS study thus concludes that for climate solutions, “the benefits far outweigh the costs immediately with a benefit / cost ratio of 5 to 25 in 2030 in a 2 ° C scenario”.

The study authors also created a website that provides health benefits state by state. For example, meeting America’s share of the Paris targets would produce cleaner air that would prevent 8,000 premature deaths in West Virginia over the next 20 years, valued at more than $ 80 billion.

Other health and climate benefits

In addition to a cumulative value of $ 54 trillion through 2070 in the United States to prevent 4.5 million premature deaths, the study estimates that the cleaner air resulting from the achievement of the Paris goals would prevent “About 1.4 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, about 300 million losses. days of work, about 1.7 million incidences of dementia and about 440 million tonnes of crop losses. These figures represent savings of “$ 111 billion in avoided dementia costs, $ 53 billion in avoided labor losses, $ 72 billion in avoided crop losses and $ 10 billion in avoided crop losses. hospitalizations and emergency room visits avoided “.

After 2060, once climate actions dramatically shift the curve of global warming and air pollution is largely eliminated, heat-related deaths averted could become the greatest value associated with combating. climate change. The study does not directly integrate the benefits of reducing extreme weather disasters other than heat deaths, but uses the “social cost of carbon” to estimate that climate damage avoided is $ 300 billion. per year in 2050 and to $ 1,400 billion per year in 2100.

The authors conclude:

“We are finding that the climate benefits (i.e. associated with heat) alone are less than the mitigation costs over the next two decades, reaching parity with mitigation costs around 2040-2055. . In the longer run, these benefits clearly outweigh the costs, according to numerous documents that suggest that the costs of inaction are ultimately higher than the costs of action. “

In short, the preservation of a stable and liveable climate for future generations should provide sufficient economic and moral justification for today’s climate solutions. But in the short term, climate solutions will also translate into immediate benefits of cleaner air, better health and longer lives, valued by Americans at $ 700 billion a year.

international ramifications

The case for phasing out fossil fuels is even more compelling in countries like China and India, where air pollution is a more serious problem than in the United States. Another new study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that meeting the Paris targets could prevent 4 million people dying globally over the rest of the century from the worst-case scenario of global warming, especially in hot countries ( and often poorer) near the equator in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, including more than a million lives saved in India alone.

But another new study published in Nature found that people in many developing countries will remain too poor for most of the century to take adaptation measures like buying air conditioning units or even having access to electricity for them. feed. As UC Berkeley study co-author Solomon Hsiang put it, “The wealthiest people can protect themselves from the impacts of global warming, but the world’s poor don’t have that luxury.” Only 5% of homes in India are currently air conditioned, for example. The Nature Scientific Reports study found that mortality resulting from extreme heat could be considerably worse in high warming scenarios if poorer countries are unable to implement such adaptation measures.

To sum up: investments in clean energy more than pay off over time; they produce enormous long-term benefits by reducing extreme weather disasters and heat-related deaths, especially in the most vulnerable developing countries; and the resulting clean air also offers valuable immediate benefits in the form of longer, healthier lives, valued by Americans at nearly a trillion dollars a year. Given these analyzes, it seems that the case for investing in the deployment of clean technologies could hardly be more convincing.

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