Thursday, August 27, 2015

Coal is (not) good for humanity

This article originally appeared in the 'Science vs Politics Fight Club' section of  Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here -

‘Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity.’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the opening of the BMA Caval Ridge coal mine in Queensland. October 2014.

It’s probably one of the most ill-informed statements ever made by a leader of a developed country. But apart from the disastrous environmental effects of coal, and the massive influence coal burning has on climate change, a recent study from a group of health researchers appointed by The Lancet, demonstrated another reason why we’d be better off switching to renewables like solar and wind power as soon as possible: saving hundreds of thousands of lives and $230 billion a year in global healthcare costs by 2030.

Air pollution caused by the burning of coal and other fossil fuels kills seven million people each year, and 88% of the world’s population is breathing air below the World Health Organisation’s quality guidelines as a result. The report found that bringing CO2 in the atmosphere below current levels by 2070 would quickly prevent 500,000 premature deaths by 2030, rising to 2.2 million by 2100.

To achieve this, world governments would need to inject an extra $1 trillion into developing and encouraging renewable technologies. It sounds like a lot of money until you consider fossil fuel companies will receive $5.3 trillion in government subsidies in 2015 alone.

Right at the beginning of the industrial revolution, there may have been a time when, on balance, coal was good for humanity. But those days are long gone.

Science: one | Politics: nil.
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