Fossil Fuels Cost the US Economy Billions According to Greenpeace Report

Image: David Iliff

According to a new report from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, air pollution that’s generated by burning fossil fuels is responsible for approximately 4.5 million premature deaths worldwide every year. The report underscored that,

Air pollution increases the incidence of chronic and acute illnesses and contributes to millions of hospital visits and billions of work absences due to illness each year. It also damages our economies and the environment.

As the Guardian explained, most unfortunate of all is that children, especially those living in low-income countries, are particularly affected with an estimated 40,000 dying each year before they reach their fifth birthday because of exposure to particulate pollution from fossil fuels.

The Impacts: The report revealed that the global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels has reached an estimated US$8 billion per day, or 3.3% of the world’s GDP. As the Guardian noted, the effects don’t stop there:

  • NO2, from petrol and diesel vehicles, power plants and factories, is linked to roughly 4m new cases of asthma in children each year. Approximately 16 million children live with the condition due to exposure to fossil fuel pollution.
  • Tiny particulate pollution – known as PM2.5 – is attributed to roughly 1.8bn days of work absence because of illness each year.
  • China, the US and India are hardest-hit financially by the impact of dirty air with estimated costs of $900bn, $600bn and $150bn each year respectively.

What Can Be Done: According to the report, the ways humans travel–especially in congested cities–must change if we want to reduce pollution and tackle the climate crisis. It calls for a “transportation revolution” and puts emphasis on municipalities investing in clean, carbon-neutral, accessible transit that allows people to live healthier lives.

There’s also an emphasis on a rapid transition to clean energy, that sees the phaseout of existing fossil fuel plants without building new ones.

Why This Matters: The really important point that this report made was that regulation matters in reducing emissions, protecting public health AND protecting the economy. It explained that the Clean Air Act in the United States has been one of our best investments: every dollar invested in its implementation yielded $30 in economic returns. We hear the narrative far too often that environmental regulations kill jobs, but the data shows that’s patently false.

Go Deeper: Interestingly enough, limiting particulate pollution known as PM2.5, may lead to an increase in ultrafine particles”. These have a diameter of under 50 nanometres, and an emerging body of work has linked them to health concerns including birth defects. This means that we have to simultaneously cut PM2.5 and VOCs from cars, or risk unintentionally making ultrafine particle pollution worse.

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