"Coal-fired power triggered lung, heart and nervous system diseases estimated to cost Australia $2.6 billion a year, while the annual health costs of pollution from oil-fuelled vehicles were put at $3.3 billion a year. Switching from vehicle transport to cycling or walking to work would reduce obesity, which would significantly reduce risk of heart disease, breast cancer and mental illness. Reductions in consumption of meat from cattle and sheep, which were big contributors of greenhouse gas in Australia, would not only reduce pollution but also reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer. The report says: "In Australia, air pollution is estimated to kill more people every year than the road toll.""
- Mark Metherell, "Health impact of rising carbon levels said to be costing $6b a year", SMH, August 2012.
- Motor vehicle-related air pollution is believed to be responsible for between 900 and 4,500 cases of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and bronchitis each year in Australia, and between 900 and 2,000 early deaths.
- Reductions in red meat consumption in Australia from the (current) average of 100g to 50g per person per day have been predicted to reduce annual emissions from livestock by 13.3 MtCO2-e (about 22 per cent) as well as cutting the incidence of colorectal cancer by 11 per cent.
- Globally, 3.2 million deaths each year can be attributed to physical inactivity. [...] Longtitudinal studies reveal cycling for transport is associated with 30-40% lower mortality rates, and cycling and walking projects provide high value for money, with the health gains returning a benefit:cost ratio of 5:1. The likelihood of becoming obese increases by 6 per cent for each hour spent in a car each day.
And such benefits are by no means confined to Australia:
"Globally, air pollution [from coal and oil] kills 1.34 million people each year. [...] The 2012 OECD Environmental Outlook report suggests that without policy action, air pollution will become the biggest cause of environmentally-related deaths worldwide by 2050.The report also notes that the black carbon (i.e. soot) pollution from burning biomass in poor countries kills more than two million each year "from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and pneumonia."
A somewhat similar study in the US by Harvard Medical School estimated that US public health costs of burning coal (it didn't even look at petroleum) run into the hundreds of billions annually. Total externalities for coal were estimated at between 300 and 500 billion dollars annually. If the price of coal-fired electricity included these costs (as it ought, in a well-designed economic system), coal no longer looks "cheap". It is cheap only to the moment you burn it, then it is nothing but costs.
Another report from the EU found that reducing carbon emissions 30% from 1990 levels by 2020 could save €80b annually in public health costs alone. For comparison, Australia's carbon scheme will actually see our emissions still rise between 1990 and 2020, though we use 2000 as our benchmark in order to hide this fact. And remember, all these studies are looking at countries with semi-decent pollution controls already. China and India's costs - burning much dirtier coal with little pollution control - are measured in millions of lives lost, shortened and worsened.
Two gripes with the SMH article:
- It is criminal that online newspapers do not provide direct links to reports on which they are reporting. Here is the report in question.
- The headline is misleading, not only in lowballing the true figure, but also in saying these are the costs of "rising carbon levels". The article makes clear they are the immediate health costs of burning dirty fossil hydrocarbons. The climate costs are likely to be much, much greater, but they are harder to get a handle on (either statistically or emotionally) because they are deferred and operate through highly complex causal chains.