One reason the world hasn’t done more on climate change is that the danger seems far-off. It’s hard to convince people to act on something now when we might only see the benefits decades from now.
But there are ways that carbon reduction could help us today. A recent report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate showed how investing in cities, agriculture and new forms of energy could grow economies and actually save money in the long run. It’s worth a read. Now comes another reason to cut emissions now: it could reduce the rate of serious disease. A new paper from researchers at Harvard, Syracuse and Boston universities reveals that a modest carbon reduction plan could have immediate health benefits, including saving 3,500 American lives a year.
The research looks at three scenarios for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The first focuses just on reducing pollution from power plants. The second leaves it to states to cut emissions in their electricity sectors. And the third caps the cost for power plants to comply with new emissions reductions measures.
All three scenarios have “health co-benefits” that go beyond reducing the gases that lead to global warming. That’s because, in addition to reducing CO2, the measures would cut sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter pollution that cause lung and heart disease, contribute to asthma, and lead people to early deaths.
The second scenario–the best from a health point of view–would produce 3,500 fewer premature deaths (or nine deaths every day), result in 1,000 fewer hospital admissions, and prevent 220 heart attacks, the research shows. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas are among those states that would see the greatest benefits.
“Our study shows that standards to cut carbon emissions from power plants can reduce other harmful pollutants, leading almost immediately to cleaner air and improved health,” says Jonathan Buonocore, at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The second scenario, which gives states flexibility in how they reach reductions, resembles the Obama Administration’s proposals for 30% power plant emissions cuts, which it announced in June (the research was actually done earlier). Now there’s another reason for states to go along, even if they don’t consider climate change an immediate threat.