Sunday, October 25, 2009

Footnote to the preceding

Just as a sort of sidebar, we should never forget that there is another present-day cost to our commitment to a fossil fuel-driven economy: damage to our health.

According to the National Research Council, the cost of early deaths and health damages to Americans from the use of fossil fuels is about $120 billion a year. About half of that comes from pollution from coal-fired power plants and most of the rest is from motor vehicles.

This was the result of an examination of the costs of energy production and the use of fossil fuels that aren't reflected in the price of energy.

The report's figure, which included costs from electricity production, transportation and heating, is undeniably low because the group didn't try to put a dollar value on all the hidden costs of energy use, such as certain air pollutants such as mercury, harm to ecosystems, and risks to national security. It also didn't examine air, rail or water transportation, which make up 25% of total transportation energy usage.
The dollar amounts were mainly early deaths due to pollution, with the value of each life put at $6 million, consistent with other studies. More than 90 percent of the costs were the statistical cost of early deaths. Other costs in studies the panel examined included chronic bronchitis and asthma, [Maureen] Cropper[, an economist at the University of Maryland and Vice-chair of the report committee,] said.

Total early deaths were about 18,000 to 19,000 per year, said another member of the panel, Daniel Greenbaum, the president of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, a nonprofit organization that researches the effects of air pollution on health.
Yet another cost is the effects on the land itself.
As attacks on mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia have grown increasingly sharp, the coal industry and its supporters have defended the practice by saying that reclaimed mine areas provide flat land for development in a place where level sites are scarce.

However, development was planned for less than 3 percent of the roughly half-million acres of land covered by surface-mining permits in Kentucky over the last decade, according to state data.
Which raises the perennial question about the coal industry and its supporters: Why the hell do we listen to these people?

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