Lower CO2 Emissions Benefit Health

Lower CO2 Emissions Benefit Health Laser Talk

When CO2 emissions from power plants and vehicles are reduced, other co-pollutants are also reduced [1,2,3]. The most important of these co-pollutants are sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) because they contribute to the formation of airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone which are both very harmful to health [1,2]. PM2.5 and ozone cause premature death and adverse health effects such as chronic bronchitis; non-fatal heart attacks; hospitalizations for cardiopulmonary disease, asthma or cardiovascular events [1,2].

It’s been estimated that a 24% reduction of CO2 emissions from U.S. power plants alone would reduce NOx and SO2 emissions by 26-28% and in the year 2030 prevent:

  • 2,700 – 6,300 premature deaths
  • 140,000 asthma exacerbations in children
  • 1,600 emergency department visits for asthma
  • 290,000 lost work days
  • 180,000 missed school days; and,
  • 2,400 hospital admissions for cardiovascular or respiratory symptoms

The estimated monetary value of these health co-benefits in 2030 alone is between $25-59 billion (2011$) [4].

Reducing CO2 emissions not only significantly and quickly reduces harmful co-pollutants, saves lives and avoids other adverse health impacts, but also saves the economy more billions of dollars in health costs than it costs to reduce emissions. Given these co-benefits, urgently and significantly reducing CO2 emissions makes sense.

Skeptic Claims and One-Liners

Carbon Fee Skeptic Claim: CO2 doesn’t harm health; how can reduced emissions save lives?
One-Liner: Burning fossil fuels also produces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which do cause premature deaths.

  1. Driscoll, C.T, Buonocore, J., Reid, S., Fakhraei, H, and Lambert, K.F. 2014. Co-benefits of Carbon Standards Part 1: Air Pollution Changes under Different 111d Options for Existing Power Plants. Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. A report of the Science Policy Exchange. 34 pp.
  2. Schwartz, J., J. Buonocore, J. Levy, C. Driscoll, K.F. Lambert, S. Reid. 2014. Health Co-benefits of Carbon Standards for Existing Power Plants. Part 2 of the Co-Benefits of Carbon Standards Study. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY; Boston University, Boston, MA. A report of the Science Policy Exchange. 34 pages.
  3. Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “Fast Facts – U.S. Transportation Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions 1990-2012”. March, 2015. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA-420-F-15-002. URL:  http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/documents/420f15002.pdf
  4. Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, the Office of Atmospheric Programs, and the Office of Policy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Regulatory Impact Analysis for the Proposed Carbon Pollution Guidelines for Existing Power Plants and Emission Standards for Modified and Reconstructed Power Plants”. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. June, 2014. Tables 4-18; ES-10. EPA-452/R-14-002. URL for pdf: http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule-regulatory-impact-analysis.

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