Those who argue that we need to continue relying on fossil fuels - including coal, petroleum and natural gas - just aren't accounting for the costs of pollution, says a new study published in the scientific journal, Climatic Change.
Fossil fuels are remarkably expensive for society especially when you consider the costs of climate damages and other health effects, says Drew Shindell, lead author and a former climatologist at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The study notes that aerosols and ozone have a bigger effect of pollutants on the climate in the northern hemisphere, which includes North and Central America.
Shindell suggests that we should gradually avoid using fossil fuels. It reduces the risks associated with climate change and also decreases the economic and health impacts of air pollution
The study shows that pollution costs are linked to fossil fuels, which we don't see in our fuel or energy bills. For instance, gasoline costs an additional amount of $3.80 per gallon and diesel an extra $4.80 per gallon. Also, coal costs an added 24 cents per kilowatt-hour, and natural gas a further 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. Carbon pollution costs $32 per ton of carbon dioxide in climate damages, and an additional $45 in climate-health impacts. In the case of other fossil fuel air pollutants, sulfur dioxide costs $42,000 per ton, and nitrous oxides $67,000 per ton.
"I've left out many things that I didn't know how to put a price on. That includes the influence of pollution on cognitive function decline, IQ, and mental health...the influence of energy on freshwater resources, national security like military spending related to oil or gas supplies...the impact of climate change on biodiversity, the effects of ocean acidification
, etc," explained Shindell.
Electric Cars Cheaper than Gasoline Powered
For an average of 26 miles per gallon by a car, Shindell estimates that the air pollution emissions cost us $1,700 in damages per year. In comparison, emissions from energy to power a compact five-door hatchback electric car like Nissan Leaf would cost us $840 even if purely powered by coal. However, it is $290 if fueled entirely from natural gas. These costs would become negligible if the electricity came from renewable or nuclear power.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are the winners in this cost comparison. Hence, environmental damages are reduced even if an EV is powered from coal-fired electricity.
Energy Transition May Have Begun in 2014
The International Energy Agency (IEA) had recently reported that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014. The year also marked a reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not coupled with an economic downturn.
In the last 40 years, there have only been three times in which emissions had fallen compared to last year but all were associated with global economic weakness. However, in 2014, the global economy expanded by 3%. The stagnation in carbon pollution originated from a transition away from fossil fuels rather than a drop in energy use due to poor economy, the agency noted.
"The halt in emissions growth was linked to changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. In China, 2014 saw greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as as hydropower
, solar and wind, and less burning of coal. In the 14 OECD economies, recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth - including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy - are producing the desired effect of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions," says the agency report.
It's important not to over-interpret a single data point, but the carbon pollution reduction without economic slow down is also assuring.