The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a European non-profit, recently published a report entitled “The Unpaid Health Bill,” which elucidated the costs that coal-fire plants impart on citizens’ health. The study concluded that burning coal contributes to over $50 billion in lost resources annually, partially due to the over four million sick days required as a result of coal-fire plants. Even more shockingly, there are over 18,000 premature European deaths each year which can be attributed to this dirty form of energy.
HEAL’s Executive Director, Genon Jensen, urged that these findings “be taken into account when determining energy policy,” especially in consideration of the increasing levels of coal use in Europe. Her organization’s goals are to cease all production of coal-fire plants, and to completely end European use of coal by 2040.
Part of the reason alternative, cleaner energy sources seem so expensive when compared to conventional fossil fuels is because of an economic concept called “externalities,” which are essentially “side effects.” The costs associated with using coal go far beyond extracting the material and burning it; there are negative externalities such as the pollution of the atmosphere, which affects everyone breathing the air. If coal companies were forced to pay for all the costs of their business, they would be charged for the carbon they put into the air, in order to offset the costs everyone else has to bear. The positive externalities of renewable energy sources, like a reduction in medical costs and benefits to wildlife, can often go unrewarded. If governments recognized the amount they could save by switching to clean energy, and used part of those savings to subsidize the installation of such energy sources, then there could be an economically feasible plan for abandoning fossil fuels forever.
– Jake Simon