Study: Switching From Coal Would Save 52,000 Lives Annually In The United States

220px-AlfedPalmersmokestacksWe have previously discussed studies that show the number of people killed by pollution each year — a concrete cost rarely discussed in debates like the current outcry over the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Accord.  In a new study published in Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews (DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2017.05.119), researchers from Michigan Technological University found that switching over to photovotaics from coal would prevent 51,999 premature deaths a year and potentially making as much as $2.5 million for each life saved.  What is interesting is that those people opposing environmental controls clearly do not view themselves in one of these groups of fatalities even though pollution tends to impact everyone fairly evenly.

Each year coal causes tens of thousands of Americans premature deaths in the United States.  The Paris Accord is often discussed in terms of temperature control.  Indeed, President Trump referred to the small decrease that would be attained from carbon reductions. What was missed is that the Accord is designed to stop the worsening of the atmosphere as the first priority. This study shows that there are also concrete benefits in terms of lives.

I was critical of the Paris Accord as not going far enough (even though the Accord has a provision for interim adjustments to attain greater reductions).  However, I still believe that the Trump Administration has placed this country on a path that will cost both health and economic benefits.  As noted earlier, the alternative fuel industry employs more people than coal, oil, and gas operations combined in this country.  Green technology and alternative fuels are the expanding economy and market around the world.  We are now moving aggressively away from the new economy and it will cost not just jobs but lives in the long run in my view.


Here is the study: Carbon Pollution study

133 thoughts on “Study: Switching From Coal Would Save 52,000 Lives Annually In The United States”

  1. The claim that coal plants cause asthma? Mayo and WebMD say “Nobody really knows what causes asthma”. Mr Turley, your legal writings are very much respected. And when it comes to climate science we should read Steve Koonin, director of NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP). He wrote, in a 1914 WSJ essay, “We are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy,”



  2. I’m dubious of these studies (outside of peer reviewed medical ones) that claim if we do or don’t do something it will save lives. This one is nine pages and talks not at all about other competing sources of “premature death” such a environmental and/or non-environmental ones. Where are the controls for all the other fatal activities? If I live near a toxic waste dump but also see a coal smokestack from my porch, who is to say which increased my relative risk? The study sure doesn’t nor does it account for these superseding, intervening risks. These studies feel like political bumper stickers: “Save the Children” and “I Brake for Animals.” Fun to read in the moment, but severely lacking in substance and hence credibility.

    1. Mespo,
      “Where are the controls for all the other fatal activities?”

      I noticed that, too. I did not read that they controlled for smoking and other lifestyle factors. If we put a map of smoking prevalence or obesity prevalence with this study, I wonder how that would compare.

      Pollution does increase inflammation in the body, but other factors also increase it and fail to decrease it.

  3. Do you want a reliable and relatively cheap source of electricity to replace coal, and thereby saving thousands in the short term and mitigating climate change in the long term?

    Solar, wind? No, too much intermittent. Dams? Good idea but it is geographically limited.


    Two words: nuclear reactors.

    France produces 75% of its energy by this means and don’t pollute; electricity is cheap there, and would be even less costly if the consumer wasn’t forced to subsidy solar and wind.
    Meanwhile, Germany closes its nuclear reactors and replaced them by coal.

    Given the United States has the uranium and the scientists needed to pull this, I think America can nuclearise its power production.

    Unfortunately, I isn’t really popular among greenies.

    The success of the antinuclear movement in the 1970s guaranteed an increased use of coal for decades to come, as proposed nuclear plants across the Western world were cancelled and replaced by coal plants. There are countless stories with specific examples; one of my favorites is of the Austrian plant at Zwentendorf, a mid-size nuclear station. It was fully completed and then closed down in 1978 before it could generate a single watt after antinuclear activists narrowly won a nationwide referendum. Today, although Austria has 60 percent hydropower, it still burns coal and oil for a third of its electricity: had Zwentendorf and the other proposed nuclear plants been allowed to run by the nascent Greens, Austrians might have enjoyed carbon-neutral electricity for the past 35 years.

    The Zwentendorf story has an irresistible coda: in 2009 it was ‘converted’ into a solar power plant. At the opening ceremony, backed by enormous Greenpeace banners declaring ‘Energy Revolution – Climate Solution’ and featuring Hollywood celebrities like Andie MacDowell, 1,000 new solar photovoltaic panels were inaugurated, having been installed at a cost of 1.2 million euros. “From radioactive beams to sunbeams – a global symbol for environmentally friendly and sustainable energy for the requirements of the future,” said the website. A quick look at the numbers tells a different story, however: average output from the solar panels will be 20.5 kilowatts (enough to run 12 hairdryers, according to one wag) whereas the 692 megawatts it would have generated as a nuclear station would have lit up Vienna.1

    One can chuckle at that kind of foolish hype, but less amusing is the history of Ireland’s proposed Carnshore reactors, which were cancelled after protests, rallies, and concerts were organized by antinuclear groups in the mid-1970s. A large coal plant was built instead, at Moneypoint in County Clare. Moneypoint’s two chimneys, as well as being among Ireland’s tallest constructions, are now the largest single point source of CO2 emissions in the entire country. Some of Ireland’s electricity even comes from the only source worse than coal: peat. Peat is not only more CO2-intensive than coal, but is based on the shameful industrial strip-mining of large areas of fragile and biologically irreplaceable raised peat bog.

    Making the World Safe for Coal – The History of the Antinuclear Movement

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