Health Impacts of Energy Usage Influencing Policy: Coming soon to political theater near you!

The production and usage of energy is accompanied by “hidden costs” such as the health care needs that results from the use of these energy sources. For example, coal may be cheap, but using it to produce electricity causes respiratory illness, impacts cardiovascular disease, etc, which puts unnecessary strain on our health care system, our economy, and has a negative impact on our collective health, productivity and quality of life. Currently, the prices of oil, coal, natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear power etc do not reflect the health effects imposed by their production and usage.

Coal plant = disease and health care costs

That is about to change thanks to a new report from the National Research Council. The NRC, which serves to “improve government decision making and public policy, increase public education and understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health”, has taken account of the hidden health costs associated with the production and usage of various forms of energy. The report found that in 2005 the United States incurred $250 billion dollars in hidden costs associated with energy production and use. The majority of the cost can be attributed to “health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation”.

These reports provide policy makers with a more complete picture of the advantages and disadvantages associated with particular energy sources. It seems the government is starting to take a more holistic view of our energy usage, and the state of national health and economy.

As statistics like these become more visible and pertinent, the reasons to support clean energy mount (and the continued use of dirty energies starts to seem, well, idiotic).

Reasons to use and support clean energy, like wind and solar:
1. Abundant/Available/Renewable.
2. Minimal negative impact on health and environment.
3. Reduces dependence on foreign oil supplies (increases national security and national independence).
4. Could support manufacturing sector in the United States, creating jobs, supporting the economy.
5. Sets a good example for the rest of the world/helps re-establish the U.S. as a legitimate leader in the global community.

Reasons to continue supporting and using dirty energy, like coal and oil:
1. It is too risky to invest in clean energies when the economy is in a fragile state (??)
2. ?????

It may cost more in the short-term to support new energy technologies. But, in the long-term making these difficult decisions can ultimately serve our greater interests in public health, the economy and national security. As we move forward (the U.S. and humans as a whole), it will be interesting to see if research like this is put to use, in policy formation and decision-making (governmental and public/individual).

1 thought on “Health Impacts of Energy Usage Influencing Policy: Coming soon to political theater near you!

  1. Sean McCormick Post author

    Here is a relevant article synopsis of a Harvard study on the TRUE cost of coal:

    http://www.wvgazette.com/News/MiningtheMountains/201102161070

    From the article
    “The public is unfairly paying for the impacts of coal use,” said Dr. Paul Epstein, associated director of the Harvard center.

    Accounting for these ‘hidden costs’ doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh, making wind, solar, and other renewable very economically competitive,” Epstein said. “Policy-makers need to evaluate current energy options with these types of impacts in mind. Our reliance on fossil fuels is proving costly for society, negatively impacting our wallets and our quality of life.”

    Reply

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