Abandoning Fossil Fuels Would Bring Immediate Benefits to Millions, Study Shows

The CO2 emitted from fossil fuels will be eliminated from the atmosphere only by natural sinks (like forests and oceans) in the next 300-1000 years.
This means that the climate benefits of switching to clean energy are more visible over time than any political term limits or election cycles.

For example, a US study found that cutting emissions from the energy sector won't result in climate cooling until 2100.

The climate benefits are greater than the costs of mitigating the effects of climate change. Politicians who seek recognition at conferences on climate change like COP26 in Glasgow don't have the motivation to implement policies that reduce emissions quickly.

However, there is a significant short-term benefit to eliminating fossil fuels for global healthcare.

Large quantities of air pollution are also produced by the same fossil fuels that cause the Earth to heat. Small particles that can penetrate the lungs are the most dangerous to your health.

These particles are known as PM2.5 because their diameter is less than 2.5 micrometers. These particles can fit on the head end of a pin with at least 800. They are more likely to be released into the atmosphere when it rains.

We published a joint study in 2021 with Harvard University researchers. It found that one out of five premature deaths is due to exposure to pollution caused by fossil fuels.

Our research suggests that 8.7 million premature deaths could have been prevented if countries had abandoned fossil fuels. This is roughly equivalent to Greater London's population.

Decarbonization has many health benefits

We were able to estimate premature deaths at a far higher level than other researchers because we used a model that simulates air pollution's fate and sources to determine its abundance on a finer scale.

This provides a better picture of the levels of air pollution in urban areas. This was then used to calculate excess deaths using the most recent health studies. These studies have shown that air pollution is more dangerous than previously thought.

Lung cancer and heart disease are the most common causes of premature deaths from air pollution exposure. However, researchers regularly report other illnesses. Based on extensive evidence that air pollution is more harmful to public health than scientists thought, the World Health Organization (WHO), recently issued stricter guidelines for air quality.

This study may underestimate the potential public health benefits of removing fossil fuels.

One type of pollution was not included in our analysis, namely PM2.5. This is caused by burning fossil fuels. All other steps in the fossil fuel supply chain include finding, extracting, processing, and storing, as well as transporting them.

Formaldehyde gas is one example. It is produced during the refining of petroleum and flaring natural gas. Formaldehyde reacts with ozone in lower atmospheres, which can cause asthma symptoms to worsen.

Also, we only considered adults. Although the relationship between poor health and air pollution in children is not fully understood, studies have shown that children who are exposed to polluted air stunt their growth and cause problems with their brains and lungs.

In 2020, Ella Kissi Debrah, a nine year-old girl from London, was killed by air pollution. This is a landmark case.

There are significant health benefits to switching to clean energy. These benefits can be seen quickly. These are a great opportunity for politicians to make immediate improvements in the lives and livelihoods of their constituents.

Eloise Marais is Associate Professor in Physical Geography at UCL. Karn Vohra is Research Assistant at UCL.

This article was republished by The Conversation under Creative Commons. You can read the original article.