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

Source: DW

IKEA Plans to Only Use Sustainable CottonThe retail giant IKEA is working harder to decrease its environmental footprint and to benefit the workers at the far reaches of its supply chain. The company recently announced that by the end of 2015, it will only purchase cotton that complies with standards set by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). This change came as a result of the UNDP’s support of the Business Call to Action (BCtA), a campaign that works to help businesses shift towards practices that benefit global development.

BCI, founded by a group of companies including IKEA, works to ensure that cotton grown around the world is grown in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Additionally, they prioritize fair trade practices so that the workers who grow the cotton itself are fairly compensated and enjoy a higher quality of life. By reducing the number of pesticides and decreasing the costs of external waste products, the income of cotton farmers can actually increase.

IKEA currently buys more cotton than any other commodity except wood. Today, only 34 percent of that cotton complies with BCI standards. Over the next three years, IKEA seeks to complete its transition to 100 percent BCI-approved cotton, with the goal of guaranteeing sustainable cotton at an affordable price—ideally the same price as any other cotton.

Jake Simon

Source: UNDP
Photo: Greenpeace