However, is it worth the expense? A new study led by Jason West at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, compares the expense of green energy and the expense of a human life. The idea is when we reduce pollution, we will save lives and therefore save money.
Besides warming the planet, greenhouse gas emissions give off harmful chemicals that pose a significant threat to humans. When this builds up in dense city centers, it is called smog. West estimates air pollution kills over two million people annually.
The primary culprit of these emissions are fossil fuel emissions from gas and coal. West and his colleagues estimated the reduction in air pollution if humans cut fossil fuel use in 2030, 2050, and 2100. The same was observed if there were no policies in place.
Using real air pollution data and epidemiological data, they were able to see how many people would die of smog. They found if humans drastically cut fossil fuel emissions, 0.5 million premature deaths would be avoided in 2030 and in 2100 this would rise to 2.2 million.
Even with overwhelming evidence, money still plays a major part in the decision to implement green energy. To prove the economic benefit of cutting emissions, West’s team used a statistic called the Value of Statistical Life. This measures the value society places on a person’s life and based it on what someone is willing to pay for a job that risks their well-being.
They found for every ton of CO2 not emitted, the average global benefit was between $50 and $380. By 2030 and 2050, the benefits outweighed the cost of cutting emissions by less than $100 per tonne. By 2100, the easiest reductions had already been done and at that point was expensive.
On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed limiting fossil fuel emissions from new coal-fired and gas-fired power plants to 499 kilowatts per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. “The work [from this study] strengthens the case for these new regulations by pointing out the air quality and health benefits,” says West. Proposals such as these hold more weight due to studies like West’s. The benefits of cutting emissions are immediate, hold economic value, and save lives.