Pollution Costs v. Benefits of SS technology

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The burden of ambient air pollution in the 41 countries studied stood at a toll of around 3.2 million deaths and at a cost of around USD 5.1 trillion in 2015. 

OECD: The Rising Cost of Ambient Air Pollution Study

Pollution Costs

Soot, or “particulate matter,” is made up of tiny particles of chemicals, soil, smoke, dust, or allergens, in the form of gas or solids, that are carried in the air. The EPA’s “Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act” states, “In many parts of the United States, pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70 percent.” The sources of smog and soot are similar. “Both come from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines—anything that combusts fossil fuels such as coal, gas, or natural gas,” Walke says. The tiniest airborne particles in soot—whether they’re in the form of gas or solids—are especially dangerous because they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and worsen bronchitis, lead to heart attacks, and even hasten death.

The World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation determined that air pollution is the third most important health risk leading to early death in low and lower-middle-income countries. The proportion of deaths attributable to air pollution has increased in both income groups since 1990, although this share is highest in upper-middle-income countries .

Premature mortality risks and GDP equivalent welfare losses from air pollution are highest for the middle-income countries (lower and upper). Higher overall exposure, risks, and losses among middle-income countries are driven in large part by trends in India and China.

The economic costs of air pollution have increased significantly over time, a reflection of the growing challenge of pollution. Between 1990 and 2013, total welfare losses due to premature mortality from exposure to air pollution increased by 94 percent. Damages from exposure to ambient particulate matter rose by 63 percent between 1990 and 2013, to $3.552 trillion. Welfare losses in East Asia and the Pacific countries more than quintupled between these years, climbing to USD2.306 trillion. Losses in South Asia reached USD604 billion, an increase of 347 percent.

Demographic and economic factors have also played an influential role in shaping trends in forgone labor output. Forgone labor income due to air pollution rose from USD162 billion in 1990 to USD225 billion in 2013.

In dollar terms, welfare losses from air pollution have increased the most on an annual basis in Equatorial Guinea (13.8%), China (10.9%), Sri Lanka (7.5%), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (7.2%), and India (7.0 %) . Welfare losses have declined the most on an annual basis in western and northern Europe, including in Norway (4.5%), Sweden (3.3%), Denmark (3.1%), Finland (2.6%), and the United Kingdom (2.5%).

According to the OECD, air pollution could cause 6 to 9 million premature deaths a year by 2060 and cost 1% of global GDP – around USD 2.6 trillion annually – as a result of sick days, medical bills and reduced agricultural output, unless action is taken.

Benefits of SS technology

The US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that although estimates of environmental benefits are not precise, they can still be revealing.

For example, a study by the EPA, looked at the costs and benefits of the Clean Air Act from 1970 to 1990. It found that total costs over that time period were roughly $500 billion—a huge amount. However, it also found that a middle-range estimate of the health and other benefits from cleaner air was $22 trillion—about 44 times higher than the costs.

A more recent study by the EPA estimated that the environmental benefits to Americans from the Clean Air Act will exceed their costs by a margin of four to one.

“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions – over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director. “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now.”

Japan is reportedly considering shuttering or mothballing as many as 100 coal-fired power plants by the end of the decade, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Currently there are 140 coal-fired power plants in Japan – where coal accounts for 32 per cent of the country’s energy supply mix.

The science is clear: breathing polluted air increases the risk of debilitating and deadly diseases such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis. Air pollution is now the world’s fourth-leading fatal health risk, causing one in ten deaths in 2013

World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2016. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. Washington, DC.

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