The lifestyles of about three average Americans will generate enough global warming emissions to kill one person, and emissions from a single coal-fired power plant are likely to cause more than 900 deaths, according to the first analysis to calculate the deadly cost of carbon emissions.
The new research is based on what is known as the “social cost of carbon,” a monetary figure that is assigned to the damage caused by each ton of carbon dioxide emissions, by assigning an expected death toll from the emissions they cause. the climate crisis.
The analysis draws on several public health studies to conclude that for every 4,434 metric tons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere beyond the 2020 emissions rate, one person worldwide will die prematurely from rising temperatures. This additional CO2 is equivalent to the current lifetime emissions of 3.5 Americans.
Adding another four million metric tons above last year’s level, produced by the average U.S. coal plant, will cost 904 lives worldwide by the end of the century, according to the research. On a larger scale, eliminating global warming emissions by 2050 would save 74 million lives worldwide this century.
The expected death figures from emissions releases are not definitive and may well be “a gross understatement” as they only take into account heat-related mortality rather than deaths from floods, storms, crop failures and other impacts. that come from the weather. crisis, according to Daniel Bressler of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, who wrote the article.
Air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is also directly killing people, with a Harvard University Historical Study published in February and found that more than eight million worldwide die each year from the health effects of toxic air.
“There is a significant number of lives that can be saved by applying climate policies that are more aggressive than the usual scenario,” said Bressler. “I was surprised by the large number of deaths. There is some uncertainty about this. The number could be less, but it could also be much higher. “
The research, published in Nature Communications, illustrates the great disparities in emissions generated by people’s consumption in different countries around the world. While it takes just 3.5 Americans to generate enough emissions in a lifetime to kill one person, it would take 25 Brazilians or 146 Nigerians to do the same, according to the document.
The social or financial cost of carbon has become a widely used metric after its creation by economist William Nordhaus, who later won a Nobel Prize, in the 1990s. The measurement calculates the damage caused by one ton of emissions, factored with the ability to adapt to changing climate.
Another finding from the first analysis to calculate the deadly cost of #CarbonEmissions is that emissions from a single coal-fired power plant are likely to cause more than 900 deaths. # CO2 #US #GHG
Under Nordhaus’ DICE model the social cost of carbon for 2020 is $ 37 per metric ton, but the Bressler sum of the cost of mortality brings this figure to $ 258 per ton. This change to the model would imply that an economically optimal policy would be to radically reduce emissions to achieve full decarbonization by 2050, a scenario that has also been endorsed by climate scientists as one that would avoid the worst ravages of global warming.
“Nordhaus came up with a fantastic model, but he didn’t take in the latest literature on the damage of climate change on mortality. There has been an explosion of research on that topic in recent years, ”said Bressler.
Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University who was not involved in the research, said that the social cost of carbon is a “crucial policy tool,” but it is also “very abstract.”
“That makes attempts to translate our climate impact into more identifiable terms so important,” he said, adding that new research on the cost of mortality shows that “the results are certainly dramatic.”
A series of heat waves hit the world in the last month, including dramatic heat and wildfires in the US Pacific Northwest., where temperature records in Seattle and Portland were broken and hundreds of people died from heat stroke and other related conditions. Scientists say the climate crisis, driven by carbon emissions, is making heat waves much more frequent and severe.
Bressler said that while his article looked at emissions caused by individual activity, the focus should be on policies that impact companies and governments that influence carbon pollution on a societal scale.
“My view is that people shouldn’t take their mortality emissions per person too personally,” he said. “Our emissions are highly dependent on the technology and culture of where we live.”