Even without an environmental catastrophe, the ACTUAL costs — including the documentable cost of human health care — associated with fossil fuel (oil, coal, natural gas) amount to a “subsidy” of about $74 a barrel — making solar and wind power appear much, much more attractive.
Referring to an article, “The Real Costs of Alternative Energy,” by Alex Planes, J.C. Moore noted that top economists such as Britain’s Nicholas Stern, using the results from formal economic models, estimate that if we don’t limit our carbon emissions, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of global GDP each year. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20 percent of GDP or more in the future, and we would run the additional risk of an environmental catastrophe.
“Using 5 percent of the U.S. GDP for 2010 would give an environmental cost of $727 billion,” Moore noted. “The American Lung Association estimates that the U.S. EPA’s proposed guidelines for particulates could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school.”
ALA estimated the economic benefits associated with reduced exposure to soot to reach as much as $281 billion annually.
“Those two add up to about $1.01 trillion, and when divided by the 13541 million barrels of oil equivalent … for coal, gas and oil together amounts to an additional subsidy of $73.9 per barrel of oil equivalent.”
“The subsidies to wind and solar electric energy do not look so bad if you actually use fossil fuels: $74, solar: $63, and wind: $32.59. The calculations do not include all the environmental and health costs, but they do give an idea of how much we are subsidizing the fossil fuel industries by ignoring the damage to people’s health and the environment. Then there is the added risk of an environmental catastrophe.”
Increasing emissions controls will save the European Union billions of dollars annually, a European Commission report issued January 31 concluded.
Such figures do not take into account the costs for treatment of diseases with both genetic and environmental components without a demonstrable link to fossil fuels: Leukemia and other cancers, etc.
Note that fossil fuel costs will rise with increasing cost of extracting hydrocarbons — as with the Alberta tar sands project and with shale gas extraction.
Shale gas extraction regulations are too lax, Stanford geophysicist Mark Zoback noted. Price reductions in natural gas may be seen as short term in light of the fact that a sustainable — let alone “safe” — regulatory environment has yet to be established. It can be argued that the true market cost has yet to be established.
Against the overwhelming data on health costs, the Alberta tar sands project — with the pertinent U.S. pipeline project back under discussion — is being taken very seriously in the world energy community. It’s development that will continue, sources say, with or without U.S. involvement in transport.
More on the particular environmental hazards of the Keystone XL piple project can be found at Tar Sands Action.