Low-Carbon Policies Could Cut 175,000 US Deaths Per Year

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Originally published on Sustainnovate.
By Henry Lindon

Study: Up To 175,000 US Deaths A Year Could Be Prevented By 2030 Through Low-Carbon Policies

Up to 175,000 annual pollution-related deaths in the US could be prevented by 2030 through the implementation of “low carbon” policies intended to prevent a 2° Celsius rise in temperature, according to a new analysis from Duke University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The analysis also notes that health benefits of around $250 billion would be generated annually by such actions.

“Many people view climate change as a future problem, but our analysis shows that reducing emissions that cause warming — many of which also contribute to air pollution — would benefit public health here and now,” stated Drew T Shindell, professor of climate sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

With the consideration of long-term global health impacts taken into account as well, benefits from such actions could be 5–10 times bigger than the estimated costs of implementing them, according to the researchers involved in the analysis.

“Burning fossil fuels in power plants, industry and motor vehicles is the main source of US greenhouse gas emissions,” Shindell noted. “Air pollution linked mostly to these same sources is also the leading environmental cause of premature death worldwide. By curbing their emissions, you score on two fronts.”

A new press release provides more: “To conduct the new analysis, the researchers constructed emissions-reduction scenarios for transportation and the energy sector, the two largest producers of US climate pollutants. Then they modeled what the human health benefits and climate impacts would be if emissions in each sector were reduced enough by 2030 to put the United States on a path to stay under the 2-degree C threshold.”

“We created a ‘clean transportation’ scenario in which surface transport emissions are reduced by 75%, and a ‘clean energy’ scenario in which emissions are reduced by 63%,” continued Shindell. “These scenarios exceed current US emissions reductions targets but are technically feasible and in accordance with the reductions we pledged to achieve at the COP21 climate conference in Paris last December and in our climate accord with China last year.”

Of the 175,000 prevented deaths a year by 2030, 22,000 relate to cleaner electricity generation policies and 120,000 relate to cleaner transportation policies.

“This is doable,” Shindell concluded. “But it’s not going to be easy. Barriers remain, and short-term setbacks are likely. Pledging to reduce our emissions is one thing; implementing the national policies and binding international agreements needed to overcome these obstacles will be challenging.”

The work was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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2 thoughts on “Low-Carbon Policies Could Cut 175,000 US Deaths Per Year

  • Very important, in that it addresses two common misconceptions:

    One, that air pollution only kills people in places like China and India;

    Two, that the Clean Air Plan (and similar initiatives) are, economically speaking, all pain and no gain.

  • It’s beginning to get across. I’m still waiting fora coherent denialist movement on air pollution. It would be hard to get going. The public health scientists have MD after their names, which generates a respect and deference that climatologists (what’s that again?) can only dream of. Besides, the causal chain is simple and intuitive: breathing smoke and fumes is bad for your lungs.

    “We created a ‘clean transportation’ scenario in which surface transport
    emissions are reduced by 75%, and a ‘clean energy’ scenario in which
    emissions are reduced by 63%.“ This seems a little odd. The transition is much more advanced in electricity generation than transport. Wind and solar are now widely competitive without subsidy, and dominate new generating investment in the USA and worldwide. EVs are still expensive, dependent on subsidies and tax breaks, and so far only a tiny – if very fast-growing – share of the light vehicle market. For heavy trucks, the technology barely exists. (The same is true of ships and planes, but they don’t create much local air pollution, as opposed to GHG emissions). One would expect more rapid reductions in the power sector than in transportation, not the other way round.

    An additional reason to think so is that electrical generation air pollution comes mainly from coal, the more vulnerable of the fossil fuels. Natural gas burns clean, with CO2 emissions and methane leaks that cause little damage to health, as opposed to the climate. A complete coal phaseout is looming – it’s nearly there in the UK.

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