Published on July 14th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan38
July 14th, 2016 by Zachary Shahan
One of the key things you have to “figure out” when engaging in public health economics, environmental economics, climate economics, etc., is the value of a human life, and, similarly, the value of one year of life, one month of life, etc. The point is, if you are to do a cost–benefit analysis and quantify the results of public health improvements, less pollution, and a more stable climate, you have to put the benefits of regulation into financial terms, so you have to put an assumed value on some subjective but hugely important matters.
This reminds me of my childhood, incidentally. I never decided to “go vegetarian,” because I was born and raised vegetarian. When the topic came up as to why my dad went vegetarian, he seemed to remember very clearly the realization that led to the decision: if he could be just as healthy (or even healthier) without taking an animal’s life, why take an animal’s life? (Of course, this was well before the broader US medical/health establishment recognized that being vegetarian was a completely fine dietary choice, before Carl Lewis won Olympic gold medal after gold medal as a vegan, and before people like Bill Clinton were switching to a plant-based diet simply for the health benefits, but even back then, if you learned enough about the matter, it was clear that you could live a happy, healthy life without taking the lives of cows, pigs, chickens, fish, etc.)
Of course, the point here isn’t to get into a discussion about dietary choices. The point is that it brings to mind a similar argument with regards to energy (for electricity and transport) and human life, one that is so routinely ignored in public discussions about energy that it’s nearly invisible:
Why kill humans with pollution when there’s absolutely no need for that?
The discourse on energy is so warped that we have to talk about the “economic benefits” of cutting pollution and stopping global warming (feeding into the equation assumptions for the value of human life, the value of one year of your life, etc.).
How much is your life worth to you? $1 million? $10 million? It is a ridiculous question, of course — there’s no value to money once you die.
If you have to create a cost–benefit analysis that takes into account human life, or simply run an equation related to that, sure, it’s better to make an assumption than to leave life as worthless. But we don’t need to do that at this stage of the energy discussion.
As The Solutions Project has shown, as well as others, we can go 100% renewable for electricity without killing people. In regards to transportation, aside from bicycling and transit (the best ways to prevent transport-related deaths), there are now dozens of electric car models on the market, more are being announced often, used EVs offer some of the best deals around (value for the money), and I personally can’t think of a good reason to buy a gasmobile except in niche situations. We can legitimately stop killing people via pollution from exhaust pipes.
But hey, someone does lose when you transition from one technology to another, right? Well, let’s think: who really gains from continuing to pollute the planet?
Coal miners in many places get to retire early since their lifespans are shorter (and less pleasant) due to the harm of coal mining — are they really benefiting in their jobs? People working in coal, natural gas, oil, and combustion-engine industries can shift to industries related to solar, wind, geothermal, energy storage, electric vehicles, or other growing industries.
So, who actually loses if we stop killing people with pollution? Basically, fossil fuel & related industry millionaires, billionaires, shareholders, and others who are somehow attached (logically or not) to the old industries.
As Mike Barnard pointed out the other day, renewables are better than fossil fuels in multiple ways. As Susan Kraemer noted and others here on CleanTechnica have in the past, solar and wind are already beating natural gas and coal on price. Electric cars also have multiple consumer benefits, aside from the life-saving benefits. So, why still kill people with pollution? Really.