Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Economic Case for Eliminating Fossil Fuels Use

Even if we did not believe in AGW there are powerful reasons for quickly ending the use of Fossil fuels. My father found data which showed that for every GWy of electricity generated by coal fired power plants, there were as many as 100 deaths. Not only that but their are clear indicators that the use of liquid fossil fuels in transportation is associated with staggering problems problems. There has been a tremendous increase in asthma cases in advanced societies during the last 30 years. In the United States the number of individuals diagnosed with asthma has tripled. There are now over 20 million Americans who suffer from asthma. Research has shown that the number of hospital and ER admissions for acute breathing problems peak on days of heavy transportation related air pollution. We could lower
our national health care costs by up to 20% by eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the generation of electricity and in transportation. Researchers report that atmospheric carbon fuel particulates are on the rise in the Eastern United States. Repeated studies have shown that carbon fuel particulates have a direct negative impact on human health.

A few years ago a group of Canadian doctors began to look at the health related costs of producing electricity from coal. They found that atmospheric pollutants from coal fired electrical generating plants were a significant source of health problems in the provence of Ontario. There research found that air pollution from all sources kills more than 5,900 people each year in Onterio. A Ontario government follow up study found that coal-fired power plants in Omtario were responsible for up to 668 deaths. In addition, atmospheric pollutants from coal fired generators were responsible for 928 hospital admissions and 1,100 emergency room visits every year. The health related cost to the people in Ontario associated with generating electricity by burning coal was found to be $4.4 billion. When the added health care coasts associated with burning coal were added to the direct coasts of generating electricity at coal-fired generators, coal began to look a great deal more expensive than other electricity sources.

A more recent Canadian study found that Ontario hospitals received in one year 12,518 asthma related visits (7,825 children and 4,693 adults). Of the people making ER visits 847 children (10.8%) and 322 adults (6.9%) were admitted to the hospital. The number of children with asthma, the severity of asma attacks, and yje number of asthma related hospital admissions are increasing. A Canadian study found that the number of children getting asthma attacks was increasing and that one out of five Canadian children suffered from asthma. Over one third of Ontario health insurance expenses were asthma related. Australian researchers report that 19.2% of Australian children between 5 and 14 suffer from asthma. Australia researchers found that Australia has the second-highest reported death rate from asthma in the world, and that the asthma death rate among Australian children increasing by 50% between 1980 to 1990. The number of asthma sufferers in the United States grew from 6.7 million people in 1980 to 17.3 million in 1998, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers have repeatedly found a relationship between asthma and auto related air pollution. particularly ozone and particulates. The auro related air pollution is directly related to burning fossile fuels - gasoline and diesel fuels - in our cars, trucks, trains, aircraft and ships. Thus an indirect cost of burning fossil fuels, is the added bruden of an epidemic of childhood asthma, and related healthcare costs for the medical treatment of asthma.

Although litte has yet been done to confront the health problems related to burning fossil fuels in Ontario cars, the Ontario Parliament decided to shut down Ontario's coal fired power plants, because of their health related coasts. When it explored its clean electrical generating options the Ontario government discovered that several older electricity generating reactors in Ontario had been shut down and mothballed. By reconditioning the mothballed reactors, much of Ontario's coal fired electrical generating coal fired enectrical generating capacity can be replaced for far less than the cost of building new power plants from scratch. A side effect will be that electricity will be generated without producing global warming causing CO2.

Similar solutions must be found for automobiles because, peak oil will soon make carbon based transportation fuels prohibitively expensive, because pollutants from transportation exhausts have contributed to a world wide asthma plague among children and to lung related health problems for over 15% of the population of the United States, and because auto related CO2 emissions threaten our future on the Planet Earth.

Ontario premier Daiton McGuinty is no fan or nuclear power. He recently stated: “I don’t like nuclear power,” but he also realizes that nuclear power is the only viable option for Ontario’s CO2 and pollutant free energy future: “Natural gas is too expensive, wind power is unreliable, coal plants pollute the air and Ontario’s hydroelectric potential has largely been maxed out, leaving nuclear power expansions ‘on the table’ for the province.”

Brian Wong has reported that the use of fossil fuels, not only burdens so society with added healthcare costs, but shortens the life expectancy of Europeans. Wong points out that chronic illness cost the American Economy over $1.3 trillion a year. Wong reports that 16.9% of Americans suffer from Pulmonary Conditions. We are talking about 50 million people whose health and life span are effected by atmospheric pollution form fossil fuels. Wong argues that by switching from coal fired electrical generation to nuclear generation, 40% of American rail freight hauling capaciry would be freed up, thus facilitating the transfer of freight from trucking to rail without large new capitol investments by the railroads.

I raised an asthmatic child, and spent many sleepless nights with him while he was having asthma attacks. This is a serious illness, a wide spread epidemic that quite literally effects millions of children. Because we know that the burring of fossil fuels is a major source of the problem, it is imperative that we eliminate the burning of fossil fuels in transportation and in the generating of electricity.

The health care savings from the elimination of fossil fuels will more than pay the cost of doing so. I have observed that great progress in the use of battery and ultra-capacitor technology. Given current technology hybrid cars with 40 to 60 mile battery ranges will be on the market within 5 years. Within 10 years 100 mile + plug in ranges will be quite likely.

Long range trucking should be eliminated, because of the health care problems associated with truck exhaust. Urban trucking can be conducted with battery powered trucks, while inter urban freight shipping could be transfered to rail. A second health care saving that would happen because of the elimination of interurban trucking would be the elimination of the accidental death and injuries caused by trucks on the highways.

Railroads can be electrified. Rail electrification and the transfer of freight to rail are rational responces of peak oil, particulate related health costs, and global warming. 10% of American oil use can be eliminated by shifting freight from diesel trucks to electrified rail.

One does not have to believe in AGW to see the health advantages and savings in health care costs that could be gained by stopping the use of fossil fuels in electrical generation and in transportation.

1 comment:

DV8 2XL said...

At the best of times the state of the North American rail network is a subject that is sure to get a rise out of me, but the pathetic state of railroad electrification is particularly galling.

Between 1920 and 1950 there was a lot of progress in this area, in fact most of the track that is electrified is from this era. However, diesel traction met the needs of general purpose railways and electric locomotive development ceased with few exceptions. The breathtaking shortsightedness of this leaves me shaking with rage.

The fact is that we have little transportation infrastructure that will not be brought to its knees by the end of cheap oil other than rail. Of all modes it is the easiest and least expensive to convert to electric motive power and the one that will be the most necessary when trucking prices itself out of the market.


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