Space & Innovation

Cutting CO2 Could Prevent 175,000 US Deaths

Limiting carbon emissions could save 175,000 lives in the United States by 2030, and would carry other benefits worth $250 billion annually. Continue reading →

As you might recall, at last fall's COP21 climate change conference in Paris, world governments hammered out an agreement to work to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over the next century, and aim for an increase of just 1.5 C (2.7 degrees F). The idea is to stave off a dramatic rise in sea levels, decreased agricultural productivity that could cause food shortages in countries, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and other potentially catastrophic effects.

If all that seems too abstract, here's a clearer, simpler cost-benefit. A recently-published study by Duke University researchers and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies concludes that limiting carbon emissions even just enough to meet the 2-degree threshold could save 175,000 lives in the U.S. alone by 2030, and provide benefits, such as reduced healthcare costs, that would be worth $250 billion annually.

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The study appears in the journal Nature Climate Change. One of its authors, Duke Professor of Climate Sciences Drew Shindell, argues in a companion essay for The Conversation that the economic benefits of cutting carbon emissions by converting our transportation and energy-generation systems to cleaner renewable sources would exceed the costs.

"Focusing on the immediate health benefits of moving to cleaner energy has the potential to change the way people view climate change," Shindell writes.

According to Shindell, reducing carbon output would have major health benefits, because pollution from power plants and cars not only raises carbon dioxide levels, but puts harmful pollution into the atmosphere as well. "Medical studies show unequivocally that inhaled air pollution leads to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases," he writes.

"Our work demonstrates that the benefits of clean energy and transportation policies in the U.S. are so large that these policies are in our own national interest even without considering the effects of climate change over the long term," Shindell writes.

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Other research suggests that the estimate by Shindell and his colleagues might actually err on the side of being conservative. A 2013 study by MIT researchers found air pollution causes around 200,000 premature deaths in the United States each year.

The EPA has estimated that reducing carbon emissions would cause consumers' electricity bills to rise until 2020, but that energy costs would begin to decline after that.

This coal-burning power plant in Cumberland, Tenn., shown in the early 2000s, has since been retrofitted with more advanced pollution-control equipment.

You've heard a lot about how human-driven climate change will lead to hotter temperatures, cause sea levels to rise and make storms more intense. But it's projected to have plenty of other unpleasant and even disastrous effects as well. Here are 10 of them. Scientists believe that rising temperatures will lead to increased evaporation of the Great Lakes' water, and precipitation won't make up the difference. That means we're likely to see declines in water levels over the next century, and one study predicts they may drop as much as 8 feet.

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Thanks to climate change, jumbo-sized ragweed plants will spew out more pollen for a longer, more miserable allergy season.

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By altering the wild environment, climate change makes it easier for newly mutated microbes to jump between species, and it's likely that as a result, diseases will emerge and spread across the globe even more rapidly.

A recent Nature article reported that male Australian central bearded dragons have been growing female genitalia because of rising temperatures, a phenomenon that had not previously been observed in that species.

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Rising sea levels are wiping out beaches all over the world already. Importing fresh sand and building them up again is only a temporary solution. To make matters worse, there's currently a sand shortage, due to demand from fracking, glass and cement making.

Bark beetles are eating old growth forests, because the winters aren't cold enough to kill them off. So more trees like this American Elm will die.

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Warmer temperatures mean there will be more water vapor trapped in the atmosphere, leading to more lightning. A University of California-Berkeley study predicts that lightning strikes will increase by about 12 percent for every degree Celsius gained.

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Wine grape harvests are being hurt. Regions that have historically supplied the world’s best wine will no longer be hospitable climates to grow wine grapes, according to research by the Environmental Defense Fund and others.

Coffee flavor depends upon really narrow conditions of temperature and moisture, and climate change is going to wreak havoc with that. Worse yet, as coffee growing regions become warmer, pests that couldn't survive in the past will ravage the crops. This is already being seen in Costa Rica, India and Ethiopia, which have experienced sharp declines in crop yields.

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Scientists say that as ice sheets and glaciers melt, the weight that's removed from the Earth's crust changes the stresses upon volcanoes. That unloading effect can trigger eruptions.

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