A new study finds that the coal industry kills more Americans than it employs.
Joshua Pearce led the study and is the Richard Witte Endowed Professor of Materials Science & Engineering as well as a professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech. He first became interested in the idea of a “corporate death penalty” — disbanding or eliminating companies following judgment by governmental justice systems — during a study that found thousands of lives could be saved converting from coal to solar electricity. Pearce wondered at what point do the number of deaths become too many for society to tolerate.
“The deal with industries is you get to make money if you’re a benefit to society,” Pearce said. He adds that most industries are primarily good, although numerous studies show increasing corporate corruption and externalized costs of environmental and health impacts that kill people. For industries that do cause extensive harm, and warrant an industry-wide corporate death penalty, identifying that threshold requires an apolitical and concise metric based on public data.
To set an ideal metric, the study used three assumptions: first, everyone has the right to life; second, everyone has the right to work; third, human law should give corporations the right to exist if they benefit humanity.
“If we know that life trumps employment because you have to be alive to work, then the minimum bar for a company or industry to meet in order to exist is to employ more people than you kill,” Pearce said. “What this paper has done is set the minimum bar.”
Coal Can Not Cross the Minimum Bar for Continued Existence
- The U.S. Energy Information Administration shows the coal industry employs 51,795.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attributes 52,015 annual U.S. deaths to coal-fired, electricity-based air pollution.
Essentially one American is sacrificed every year for every coal job.
What about jobs?
A 2016 study published in Energy Economics, cataloged coal jobs and the potential solar occupations that matched along with required training. “Electricity is an essential resource but there are alternative technologies that replace coal,” Pearce said. “Coal workers on average would make more money in the solar industry and we can easily retrain them and put them to work. Solar already employs five times as many Americans.”
Employment loss, therefore, is not as much of a hurdle as some might fear. Pearce concludes “Solar electricity now costs less than coal-fired electricity. Coal kills far more Americans than any terrorist group each year. There is simply no reason to keep the coal industry.”
[article provided by Joshua Pearce]