The U.K. could save up to $4 billion in health care costs, just by ending coal use. And that figure is per year. Phasing out coal completely would also address climate change, which would result in uncountable future savings.
A new report from the U.K. Health Alliance on Climate Change, called A Breath of Fresh Air, argues that addressing both pollution and climate change together will not only be more effective than tackling them separately, but it will also be a lot cheaper, based on the old two-birds-one-stone rule.
The report, prepared by doctors and health professionals, recommends phasing out coal-fired power stations by 2015, expanding clean-air zones in cities, monitoring air quality where vulnerable populations are concentrated, and retaining (and improving on) EU-mandated air-quality standards.
In the long term, coal pollution causes strokes, coronary heart disease, and lung cancer, and yet it is still a major part of the U.K.’s power production. Short term, the pollution increases cardiovascular and respiratory hospital admissions, makes asthma worse, and reduces lung function. In the middle of the climate-change crisis, it’s easy to forget that pollution is a bigger short-term killer, and it also reduces the quality of life of those living with it.
“Air pollution is the second biggest public health threat after smoking, and kills 40,000 people a year. Coal fired energy is particularly damaging through its invisible particulates, and because it is a driver of climate change,” says John Middleton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, in a statement.
The report recommends a holistic policy approach from the government to address both traditional air pollution and climate change. The savings will be worth it: The U.K. currently loses up to $4 billion per year thanks to premature deaths, medical treatment, work days lost thanks to illness, and “more than a million incidents of lower respiratory symptoms.”
Getting rid of coal isn’t an easy task, but it isn’t as crazy as it seems. In 2015, coal produced 22% of the U.K.’s energy, and renewables 24.6%. (nuclear, gas, and “other” made up the rest). Coal isn’t a majority source, so it could be targeted by the government. One worry, though, is that when the Britain leaves the European Union, it will no longer be bound by EU laws and treaties, and may reverse any good work already done.