19 May If coal can take years off your life in China and costs $500 billion per year in the US in health costs why is it good for Australia?
Recent pronouncements by the Abbott Government that coal is good for Australia are increasingly coming under scrutiny, and if recently published findings are anything to go by, this scrutiny should continue. According to the International Edition of the Green Innovation Index, Australia had the highest coal consumption per capita on Earth, and was the 5th highest producer of coal. In terms of per capita energy use, Australia was ranked 43rd in the world, just above Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and 45th in the world for per capita electricity use. The report also noted the repeal of the Carbon Tax in 2012 by the Senate despite being one of the world’s highest greenhouse gas emitters and having one of the highest emissions per capita in the developed world.
As I touched on in my blog “Spotlight on climate and health” on Monday, recent research has also shed light on both the direct and indirect costs of the link climate and health at the present time and not at some time in the future. A joint Chinese-United States Study has found that the air pollution created by the use of coal use has reduced average life expectancy by 5.5 years. As we all know with the term average- there must be a percentage of people whose life expectancy is reduced by more than that, which I’m sure most people would agree is a serious issue.
The research, which was a collaboration between Peking and Tsinghua Universities in Beijing and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) looked at the impact of what was virtually an arbitrary Chinese policy. In the period 1950-1980, the Chinese Government established free winter heating for offices and homes via coal for fuel boilers as a “basic right”. Due to budgetary constraints, the program was only rolled out in Northern China which was deemed as the area bordered by the Huai River and Qinling Mountain Range. This “basic right” has resulted in significant concentrations of particles being added to the atmosphere.
The authors of the study found that compared to Southern China, the concentrations of particles in the air in Northern China were 55% higher, which contributed to the reduced life expectancy mainly due to cardiorespiratory mortality.
In the United States, a study by Harvard University and a number of partners has estimated that coal use comes with a very high cost, taking into account extraction, transport, processing and combustion. Actually, to the tune of US$345-$500 billion every year in health impacts. This amount far outstrips the economic benefits of using coal as an energy source, as it effectively doubles or triples the price per kilowatt hour (kWh) and makes wind, solar and other renewables and investments in energy efficiency and conservation methods economically competitive.
Since 1995 in the United States, coal has provided approximately half of the country’s electricity and the demand for electricity is predicted to increase by 1.3% per year over the period 2005-2030, and coal derived electricity is predicted to increase by a similar percentage over the same period.
Among the recommendations provided by the authors of the study were a comparative analysis of the life cycle costs of all electricity generation technologies and practices to guide future energy policies, to begin phasing out coal and phasing in “clean power” smart grids using the most appropriate option in each region, and alternative industrial and farming policies for coal fields to support the manufacture and installation of renewable technologies (eg. solar, wind and small scale hydroelectricity).
Surely I am not the only person who can see that at the very least it is worth questioning the Abbott Government’s stance on coal being good for Australia based on the above? I’m not really convinced that the Australian health system is adequately resourced to cope with the ageing population in Australia and the most recent projections with respect to the size of that population going forward, let alone coping with a health issue such as that discussed above, especially given Australia has the highest per capita coal consumption on Earth. Actually, wouldn’t it be good if someone looked into a similar thing in Australia?……but then again that would mean funding research- oh no! And I haven’t even touched the subject of the environmental impacts….