Pushing renewable power immediately could save trillions in health costs

Image of a wind farm.

Enlarge / Building a lot of these would pay for itself, albeit indirectly. (credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

The use of fossil fuels comes with a wide variety of externalized costs. The big focus tends to be on the carbon dioxide fossil fuel produces and its role in warming the climate. But fossil fuels also cause environmental damage when they’re extracted, and burning them produces particulate pollution and ozone. Those substances have downstream effects on human health and agriculture. If all of these costs were included in the price of fossil fuels, then alternatives would be far more competitive.

There have been numerous attempts over the years to quantify these externalized costs. Some look at the issue from a purely economic perspective, and others look at efforts to inform policy. These efforts tend to be based on our best understanding at the time, however; as our knowledge improves, the figures can be worth revisiting. That’s exactly what’s been done by a team of researchers at Columbia and Duke Universities who use current climate scenarios and updated health data.

The researchers’ results say that, even if you ignore the climate benefits, moving away from fossil fuels rapidly would lead to benefits that, in the US alone, can add up to trillions of dollars before the century is over.

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