Air Pollution Costs the West Almost $1 Trillion Annually

Air Pollution Costs the West Almost $1 Trillion Annually | 07/12/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Air pollution has a very real cost to our civilization via increased healthcare costs, premature deaths, lowered productivity, environmental degradation with resultant lowered crop yields, increased water consumption and higher taxation.

However, air pollution is only one cost associated with fossil fuel use.

Smokestack Image Credit: Alfred Palmer
Smokestack image credit: Alfred Palmer

There are three main costs associated with energy

  1. The retail price that you pay at the gas pump or on your utility bill for example (which is paid by consumers)
  2. The subsidy cost that governments pay energy producers and utility companies (which is ultimately paid by taxpayers)
  3. The externality cost of each type of energy (which is paid by taxpayers, by increased prices for consumers, and the impact on, or the cost to, the environment)

Externality cost in Europe and the U.S.A.

A recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) states that high air pollution levels (one type of externality) in the EU cost society €189 billion every year and it’s a number that increases every year. (That’s $235 billion when converted to U.S. dollars)

To put that number in some kind of context, the cost of the air pollution externality in the EU annually, is equal to the annual GDP of Finland.

Let’s state that even more clearly. The amount of taxation paid by EU taxpayers every year to pay for airborne fossil fuel damage is equal to Finland’s entire annual economic output!

It’s getting worse, not better, notwithstanding recent renewable energy programs and incentives. Even the admirable German Energiewende program is barely making an impact when we look at the overall EU air quality index.

Of the 30 biggest facilities it identified as causing the most damage, 26 were power plants, mainly fueled by coal in Germany and eastern Europe. — Barbara Lewis (Reuters)

That’s just Europe. It’s even worse in the U.S., according to a landmark Harvard University report which says coal-fired power generation alone costs the U.S. taxpayer over $500 billion/yr in externality cost.

Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment. These costs are external to the coal industry and thus are often considered as “externalities.”

We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually.

Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative.

Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive.

We focus on Appalachia, though coal is mined in other regions of the United States and is burned throughout the world.” — Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal by Dr. Paul Epstein, the Director of Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment, and eleven other co-authors

The report also notes that electricity rates would need to rise by another .09 to .27 cents per kilowatt hour in the U.S. to cover the externality cost of American coal-fired electricity production.

The externality cost for solar or wind power plants is zero, just for the record

Dr. Epstein and his team notes: “Coal burning produces one and a half times the CO2 emissions of oil combustion and twice that from burning natural gas (for an equal amount of energy produced).”

There’s the argument to switch from coal to natural gas right there

Also in the Harvard report in regards to the intrinsic inefficiency of coal:

Energy specialist Amory Lovins estimates that after mining, processing, transporting and burning coal, and transmitting the electricity, only about 3% of the energy in the coal is used in incandescent light bulbs.

…In the United States in 2005, coal produced 50% of the nation’s electricity but 81% of the CO2 emissions.

For 2030, coal is projected to produce 53% of U.S. power and 85% of the U.S. CO2 emissions from electricity generation.

None of these figures includes the additional life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal, including methane from coal mines, emissions from coal transport, other GHG emissions (e.g., particulates or black carbon), and carbon and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from land transformation in the case of MTR coal mining.” — Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal report

It’s not like this information is secret. All European, American, and Asian policymakers now know about the externality costs of coal vs. renewable energy. It’s just that until recently everyone thought that the cost of switching to renewable energy, was higher than the cost of fossil externalities.

It’s not only an economic problem, it’s also a health problem

Air pollution impacts human health, resulting in extra healthcare costs, lost productivity, and fewer work days. Other impacts are reduced crop yields and building damage.

Particulate matter and ground-level ozone are two of the main pollutants that come from coal.

90% or more of Europeans living in cities are exposed to harmful air pollution. Bulgaria and Poland have some of the worst pollution of the European countries.

An estimated 400,000 premature deaths in European cities were linked to air pollution in 2011. — CleanTechnica

Externality cost in China

Remember the Beijing Olympics where the city’s industry and commercial business were shut down to allow visitors and athletes to breathe clean air during their stay (and Wow!) look at their clear blue sky for the first time in decades. Great for tourists! Bad for Beijing business and industry, with the exception of the tourism industry (for one month) of course.

The Common Language Project reported in 2008 that premature deaths in China resulting from fossil fuel air pollution were surpassing 400,000 per year.

China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year. — clpmag.org

The die is cast since it is becoming common knowledge that renewable energy merely requires a small subsidy to assist with power plant construction and grid harmonization — while fossil fuels continue to require truly massive and ongoing subsidies to continue operations.

Subsidy cost of fossil fuels

Already there is talk of ending fossil fuel subsidies, which in 2014 will top $600 billion worldwide

Want to add up the total costs (direct economic subsidy and externality cost subsidy) of fossil fuels?

Add the $600 billion global fossil fuel subsidy to the to the $2 trillion dollars of global externality cost and you arrive at (approx) $2.5 trillion dollars per year. Then there is the more than 1 million premature deaths globally caused by air pollution. All of that is subsidized by the world’s taxpayers.

Compare that to the total costs of renewable energy. Well, for starters, the economic subsidy dollar amount for renewable energy is much less (about $100 billion per year globally) and there are no externality costs.

No deaths. No illness. No direct or related productivity loss due to a host of fossil fuel related issues (oil spills, coal car derailment, river contamination, explosions in pipelines or factories) for just a very few examples.

The fossil fuel industry is a very mature industry, it has found ways to do more with ever-fewer employees, and it gets more subsidy dollars than any other economic segment on the planet.

By comparison, the renewable energy industry is a new segment, one that requires many thousands of workers and it gets only relative handfuls of subsidy dollars. And, no externalities.

It becomes clearer every day that high-carbon fossil must be displaced by renewable energy

No longer is it some arcane moral argument that we should switch to renewables for the good of the Earth; Fossil fuel is proving to be a major factor in human illness/premature deaths, it sends our money abroad to purchase energy instead of keeping our money in our own countries, and the wholly-taxpayer-funded subsidy cost of fossil is out of control and getting worse with each passing year.

The time for dithering is past. It’s time to make the switch to renewable energy, and to start, we need to remove the worst polluting power plants from the grid (and at the very least, replace them with natural gas powered plants) or even better, replace them with hybrid wind and solar power plants.

To accomplish this, governments need to begin diverting some of the tens of billions of dollars annually paid to the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy industry.

Germany’s Energiewende program was (and still is) an admirable first step. Once Germany has completed it’s energy transition away from oil, coal and nuclear — having replaced all of that generation capacity with renewable energy and natural gas, only then can it be hailed a complete success — and German leaders should go down in history as being instrumental in changing the world’s 21st century energy paradigm.

Dank an unsere deutschen Freunde! (With thanks to our German friends!)

If only every nation would sign-on to matching or exceeding the ongoing German example, we wouldn’t have 1 million premature deaths globally due to fossil fuel burning, we wouldn’t have almost 2 trillion dollars of externality cost, we wouldn’t need $600 billion dollars of direct subsidies for fossil fuel producers — and we would all live in a healthier environment, and our plant, animal, and aquatic life would return to their normally thriving state.

Taxes would reflect the global $2.5 trillion drop in combined fossil fuel subsidy and fossil fuel externality costs, employment stats would improve, productivity would increase, the tourism industry would receive a boost, and enjoyment of life for individuals would rebound.

It’s a truism in the energy industry that all energy is subsidized, of that there is no doubt. Even renewable energy receives tiny amounts of subsidy, relative to fossil.

But it is now apparent that over the past 100 years, getting ‘the best (energy) bang for the buck’ has been our nemesis. The energy world that we once knew, is about to change.

The world didn’t come to an end when air travel began to replace rail travel in the 1950’s. Now almost everyone travels by air, and only few travel by train. And what about the railway investors didn’t they lose their money when the age of rail tapered-off? No, they simply moved their money to the new transportation mode and made as much or more money in the airline business.

Likewise, the world will not come to an end now that renewable energy is beginning to displace coal and oil. Investors will simply reallocate their money and make as much or more money in renewable energy.

Climate Change, The Biggest Story of Our Time [2 Videos]

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Climate Change

James Cameron says it is “the biggest story of our time” in a fresh nine-part documentary series airing on SHOWTIME that looks at our Earth, its climate and the effects of changing climate on people and local economies. Actors, economists, and political leaders set out as reporters traveling the globe in search of the effects of climate change.

Their “findings” and statements will astonish you. You may wish to keep a pen and paper handy, as there are some amazing quotes embedded in the hour-long documentary. Feel free to Tweet such quotes, or post on Facebook, and include the URL of this page.

For example, did you know that Indonesia’s forest clear-cutting causes 4% of worldwide annual carbon emissions? That’s approximately equal to all of Canada’s CO2 emissions and South Africa’s CO2 emissions, combined.

Some pretty big names are involved in this.

First, the executive producers. There are a lot of them:

James Cameron, Canadian film director, deep-sea explorer, screenwriter, editor, multi-Oscar winner, and one of the most popular film producers in Hollywood, who directed the two biggest box office films of all time: Titanic and Avatar.

Jerry Weintraub, film producer, entertainment mogul, former chairman and CEO of United Artists, and cofounder of 60s vocal group The Doodletown Pipers (once beloved to this writer).

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Teutonic movie hunk, former husband of a Kennedy, California’s 38th governor, founder of the nonprofit R20: Regions of Climate Action, and recent star of Escape Plan and Sabotage.

Daniel Abbasi, leader on climate change issues, founder of GameChange Capital, author, appointee at the EPA (worked with White House in mid-1990s on first U.S. National Action Plan on Climate Change), former strategist for subsidiaries of Washington Post and Time Warner, and former Associate Dean at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Joel Bach, story producer at 60 Minutes for seven years, multi-Emmy awardwinner, colleague of Ed Bradley, Scott Pelley, Steve Kroft, and Lesley Stahl, veteran of ABC and NBC, and freelance producer/director of music videos, commercials, short films, and PSAs in California.

David Gelber, Ed Bradley’s producer at 60 Minutes for 25 years, winner of every major journalism award, including a Peabody, two DuPont Awards, and eight Emmy Awards, former executive producer of Peter Jennings Reporting at ABC News, winner of Best Investigative Story of 2010 Emmy with Scott Pelley on medical charlatans who peddle bogus stem cell therapy to patients dying of ALS.

Solly Granatstein, television producer formerly with 60 Minutes, NBC News, and ABC News, multiple award-winner, recent producer of “Inside Mexico’s Drug War,” “Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster,” and “Lost Children of Haiti.”

Maria Wilhelm, Executive Director of the Avatar Alliance Foundation, President & COO of CAMERON Companies, social advocate with a focus on climate change, with commercial initiatives in new technology integration and interests in China and elsewhere.

Second (although they often vie for first place), the stars of the show. Here are a few of these luminaries, all of whom showed up at the premiere:

Harrison Ford, Oscar-winning actor, environmentalist (Conservation International Board member from 1991, later Vice Chairman and Executive Committee; also involved with the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and others), Han Solo in the first “Star Wars” trilogy, Indiana Jones in four mega-hits starting with “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” recently in “42″ and “Ender’s Game.”

Ian Somerhalder, actor (Boone Carlyle in “Lost,” Damon Salvatore in “The Vampire Diaries”), model from age 10-13, environmentalist (Ian Somerhalder Foundation, personal involvement in the cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling disaster), conservationist, supporter of the It Gets Better Project (GLBT teen suicide), and Millenial heart-throb.

Don Cheadle, actor (Boogie Nights, Ocean’s 11, 12, 13, Hotel Rwanda, Marty Kaan on “House of Lies”), producer, Golden Globe Award winner, co-founder ofNot on Our Watch Project, U.N. Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador.

Also featured:

Mark Bittman, Christopher Hayes, Lesley Stahl, Sanjayan Muttulingam, Thomas Friedman, Olivia Munn, America Ferrera, Matt Damon, Michael C. Hall, and Jessica Alba.

by Sandy Dechert of Cleantechnica.com

See the first instalment of the nine-part documentary, below.

Subscribe to the Years of Living Dangerously channel for more.

Check out the official site for the nine-part video production here.

Click here for a summary of all episodes of the program.

Subscribe to SHOWTIME on cable TV. Order now for $25 off.

Watch on SHOWTIME free with your paid subscription.

Yale climate project. Climate Change is happening. 350.org
Yale climate project. Climate Change is happening. 350.org

HSBC Knocks Europeans for ‘Low Ambition’ on Climate Change

by Guest Contributor Sophie Vorrath.

Renewable Energy needed here!
HSBC’s report says European efforts to lower emissions are insufficient to speed along renewable energy adoption and thereby avoid the most severe levels of climate change. It is already too late to avoid moderate climate change — as those emissions are already in the air and in steadily increasing concentrations over recent decades.

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

Europe’s climate policy proposals reflect the lowest level of ambition required to keep global warming at 2°C, while its goals on renewable energy are “disappointing” and bad news for the industry, according to a new report by banking giant HSBC.

Released on Wednesday, the report is based on the publication of the European Commission policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030, which it describes as “a first indication of the EU negotiating position in the run up to a global climate deal in Paris 2015.”

In a nutshell, the EU 2030 climate and energy package proposals are for a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG’s) and an EU renewables share of at least 27 per cent in energy consumption, with no individual country goals.

The HSBC report describes the 40 per cent by 2030 GHG aim as “modest” but expected, adding that it “implies a 2% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for GHG reduction from now on, increasing ambition from the 0.2% pa rate of reduction left for delivery of the 2020 goal.”

But in the context of the long-term goal of an 80 per cent cut in greenhouse gases by 2050, the bloc’s proposals “offer the lowest level of climate ambition” possible, says the report.

“This is the lower end of the GHG emission reduction range (80- 95%) expected from the developed countries by 2050, to limit the global temperature increase to 2°C,” says the report.

“The 2030 GHG reduction target needs to be translated into national GHG targets for the non-ETS sectors before 2021. In addition, member states need to draw up their national plans for competitive, secure and sustainable energy for the period up to 2030.”

On renewables, HSBC describes the 27 per cent goal for the proportion of renewable energy in the overall mix by 2030 as “disappointing,” noting that it suggests growth of renewables in the energy mix will actually slow from a rate of 5 per cent per annum in 2010-2020, to 2 per cent during the 2020-2030 decade.

“The proposed target implies a decline in the growth rate of renewable installations from 2021-30 compared with 2011-20,” says the report (see charts below). “For electricity, from 2020-2030 we estimate 150GW of total new renewable capacity addition, compared with 210GW during the previous decade.”

And while the report notes that this scenario is “marginally better” than the EU trends to 2050 scenario, which points to just a 1 per cent renewable energy growth rate in 2020-30, it stresses that the 2030 package is, on balance, “a negative” for Europe’s renewable energy industry, with no new target for energy efficiency.

“(The research) shows more differences in views in Europe on renewable energy targets than for GHGs,” says the report. “For instance, the UK and Poland have strongly opposed any mandating of renewable targets, whereas Germany and France favoured it.”

The proposed package also provides nations like the UK with the option to choose nuclear technology over renewable expansion. In particular, says the report, there appears to be “increased risk for the offshore wind technology given its higher capital costs and project development risks.”

“Recently, Germany announced its plan to scale down its 2020 offshore wind target from 10GW to 6.5GW, while also limiting annual wind and solar installations to 2.5GW each.”

“We now see increasing downside risks for offshore wind targets in the UK, the largest offshore wind market, not only in entire Europe but also globally. In case of a scale down in the UK offshore wind expectations, supply chain development and technology cost reductions are likely to slow down, thereby adversely impacting the offshore wind installations globally.”

In the absence of country-specific renewable targets, the report points to the carbon price as “an important driver for the economics around renewable capacity additions.”

“The European Commission, rather ambitiously in our view, expects carbon prices to increase to €40/tonne in 2030 under the proposed framework, from an estimated price of €5/tonne in 2020,” says the report. “Prices at €40/t would help accelerate a switch from coal to gas and renewable technologies.”

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This article, HSBC: Europeans Dragging Their Feet On Climate Action, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

100% Renewable Energy Is Goal For Philippines Province Palawan

by Jake Richardson

Palawan, Philippines. Image: Andrew Lillis
Palawan, Philippines. Image Credit: Andrew Lillis

Palawan is one of the Philippines natural wonders, with many tourists visiting every year. The island province is not connected to the national grid and is completely dependent upon imported diesel and bunker fuel to generate electricity.

These fuels are known to have significant emissions and can contribute to noxious air pollution. Additionally, blackouts and brownouts have been too common, and some residents don’t have access to reliable electricity sources. Power also costs about twice much in Palawan as it does in Manila.

So, moving towards being energy independent by using renewable sources is a great new direction. “Palawan is so much better off than the rest of the Philippines. Palawan is the last ecological frontier. It can prove if we can live sustainably. It can be a model to follow,” explained World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines leader Lory Tan. (Source: Rappler)

Currently, a proposed hydropower plant would partially help them reach their renewable energy goals, and create jobs. It would save money by generating power that would not need to be produced by burning imported fossil fuels and it would reduce CO2 emissions.

Palawan is a long, thin island province measuring about 280 miles long and 31 miles wide, with a human population of 771,000. There are well over 1,000 miles of coastline, mountainous areas, virgin forests, and clear waters for diving and snorkeling. There are also about 11,000 square kilometers of coral reefs. Over two hundred endemic species live there as well.

Agriculture and fishing are two of the economic staples, with a growing tourism industry due to the idyllic natural resources. So, switching to renewable energy sources makes good sense both for public health and ecological reasons. When Palawan becomes a green province, it will probably become an effective selling point for tourism. Currently, the Philippines employs geothermal and biomass as their top renewables.

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This article, 100% Renewable Energy Is Goal For Philippines Province Palawan, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Jake Richardson Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103554956530757893412/

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Over 90% of European citizens breathe air that does not meet European standards — EEA

by European Environment Agency (EEA)

European Environment Agency (EEA) report
The Air quality in Europe – 2013 report, is the European Environment Agency (EEA) contribution to the European Commission’s review of air quality policy and the EU ‘Year of Air’. Image © iStockphoto

Around 90% of city dwellers in the European Union (EU) are exposed to one of the most damaging air pollutants at levels deemed harmful to health by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This result comes from the latest assessment of air quality in Europe, published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

“Large parts of the population do not live in a healthy environment, according to current standards. To get on to a sustainable path, Europe will have to be ambitious and go beyond current legislation.” — Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

The report, Air quality in Europe – 2013 report, is an EEA contribution to the European Commission’s review of air quality policy and the EU ‘Year of Air‘.

Vehicles, industry, agriculture and homes are contributing to air pollution in Europe. Despite falling emission levels and reductions of some air pollutant concentrations in recent decades, the report demonstrates that Europe’s air pollution problem is far from solved. Two specific pollutants, particulate matter and ground-level ozone, continue to be a source breathing problems, cardiovascular disease and shortened lives. New scientific findings show that human health can be harmed by lower concentrations of air pollution than previously thought.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “Air pollution is causing damage to human health and ecosystems. Large parts of the population do not live in a healthy environment, according to current standards. To get on to a sustainable path, Europe will have to be ambitious and go beyond current legislation.”

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik added: “Air quality is a central concern for many people. Surveys show that a large majority of citizens understand well the impact of air quality on health and are asking public authorities to take action at EU, national and local levels, even in times of austerity and hardship. I am ready to respond to these concerns through the Commission’s upcoming Air Policy Review.”

Between 2009 and 2011, up to 96% of city dwellers were exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations above WHO guidelines and up to 98% were exposed to ozone (O3) levels above WHO guidelines. Lower proportions of EU citizens were exposed to levels of these pollutants exceeding the limits or targets set out in EU legislation. These EU limits or targets are in certain cases less strict than WHO guidelines. See EEA data on EU exposure in 2011.

It is not just cities – some rural areas also have significant levels of air pollution, the report notes. National differences across Europe are presented in a series of country fact-sheets accompanying the main findings.

There have been several success stories in cutting emissions of air pollutants – for example sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants, industry and transport have been reduced over the last decade, reducing exposure. Phasing out leaded petrol has also reduced concentrations of lead, found to affect neurological development.

Eutrophication

Alongside health concerns, the report also highlights environmental problems such as eutrophication, which is when excessive nutrient nitrogen damages ecosystems, threatening biodiversity. Eutrophication is still a widespread problem that affects most European ecosystems.

Emissions of some nitrogen-containing pollutants have decreased, for example emissions of nitrogen oxides and ammonia have fallen by 27% and 7% respectively since 2002. However, emissions were not reduced as much as anticipated, with eight EU Member States breaching legal ceilings a year after the deadline for compliance. To address eutrophication, further measures are needed to reduce emissions of nitrogen.

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EEA

Over 90% of people in Europe’s cities breathe dangerous air – study