Research shows that cutting carbon pollution would save millions of lives.
Zoomen this image to toggle caption Matt Young/AP Matt Young/AP
A new study has found that cutting greenhouse gas emissions would quickly save millions of lives around the world. This is the latest evidence that climate change can be deadly for humans and that a transition to a cleaner economy could have profound benefits.
A series of research papers has made the connection between a warmer planet and human disease and death more clear in recent years. In 2021, a study found that around a third of all heat-related deaths can be directly attributed human-caused global climate change. According to a 2020 Lancet report, climate change is the greatest global public health risk of the century.
These findings were not included in the major computer models used by economists, scientists, and the federal government to calculate the social costs of carbon emission. This could mean that policymakers and economists may underestimate the human cost of climate change.
R. Daniel Bressler is a Columbia University Ph.D. candidate and the author of the study. It was published in Nature Communications on Thursday.
Bressler calculated that 74 million people could be saved if greenhouse gas emissions were reduced to zero by 2050. This is in contrast with a scenario where the Earth experiences a devastating 4 degrees Celsius (or 7 degrees Fahrenheit), of warming by the end.
He hopes that the findings will prove useful to a federal working party currently reviewing how the government calculates climate policy's benefits and costs. The federal government has been calculating the "social cost" of carbon since 2010. This is a dollar figure that represents the cost of releasing 1 metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. These costs include the effects on agricultural productivity, energy consumption, species extinction, sea-level rise, and human health.
The social cost to carbon is a major driver of trillions of dollars in federal policy, which includes regulations regarding vehicle tailpipe emissions and power plants, as well as standards for efficiency of appliances.
Maureen Cropper, a University of Maryland climate economist, co-chaired the 2017 National Academies of Sciences Committee on the Social Cost of Carbon.
Cropper states that at least 11 states use the social cost carbon to make decisions about their power grids and efficiency regulations, as well as other climate policies. Canada, however, based its cost number on original U.S. calculations.
Bressler states that having an accurate cost figure is particularly important when Congress and the state governments are looking at major infrastructure investments.
Bressler states, "Imagine that you are looking at the cost-benefit analysis for building a new power station." "You are trying to compare a coal plant to a windfarm. The coal-fired power plants produce a lot more carbon dioxide. What about the associated costs?
It all depends on who you ask. The cost of releasing carbon under the Obama administration was at least seven times greater than that under the Trump administration. This is largely because Trump deliberately ignored the impact of U.S. emissions on the rest of world.
The Obama-era cost number was reinstated by President Biden. He also directed a federal group to review the calculation in order to ensure it incorporates the most recent research on the impacts of climate change. In early 2022, a new cost number will be released.