Pollutants from coal-based electricity generation kill 170,000 people annually
Top British climate scientist Professor James Lovelock FRS has warned that over 6 billion people will die this century due to unaddressed climate change. Already 16 million people die avoidably in the world each year due to deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease (see: â€œBody Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950â€ (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007). It is already clear from declining agricultural production due to drought and massive storm surge disasters in India, Bangladesh, Burma and the US that global warming is already impacting on global avoidable mortality.
Greenhouse gas pollution â€“ mostly due to carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel burning â€“ is driving global warming and attendant species extinctions, droughts, sea level rise, decreased agricultural production and increased human death. However a major reality that is generally ignored is the death toll associated with pollutants other than CO2 generated by fossil fuel burning, notably carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, particulates, volatile organic components, nitrogen oxides and heavy metals such as mercury. As outlined below an upper limit of about 0.3 million people die avoidably each year in the world due to the effects of toxic pollutants from fossil fuel burning.
The Ministry of Energy of Ontario, Canada, commissioned a report into â€œtrue costâ€ of coal-fired power plants i.e. the â€œtrue costâ€ taking into account the environmental cost and the human impact in terms of mortality (deaths) and morbidity (illness) (see: "Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario's Coal-Fired Electricity Generation" (PDF) by DSS Management Consultants Inc. and RWDI Air Inc., for the Ontario Ministry of Energy, April, 2005, 93 pages). The report found that the â€œtrue costâ€ of coal-based electricity was 4-5 times the â€œmarket priceâ€ depending upon whether one valued a human life at $4 million or $5 million.
Of crucial importance to analysis of human deaths from coal-based electricity generation, the Canadian report found that 668 Ontarians die due to 27 TWh (27 trillion Watt hours) of electricity generation (for a summary see: http://evworld.com).
Canada and Ontario in particular have excellent medical services that are readily accessed by all members of society. Further, the population density in Ontario is much lower than in other countries (indeed even continental Australia most of the coal-fired power stations and most of the population are confined to relatively densely populated coastal regions). Accordingly, estimates of â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ in other countries based on the Ontario ratio of 668 avoidable deaths per annum /27 TWh = 24.7 deaths per TWh are likely to be UNDER-estimates.
Coal, gas and oil burning all produce toxic agents such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, particulates, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, volatile organic components and heavy metals, notably mercury (Hg) (see: http://dar.csiro.au/.../urbanpollution.html). Sulphur (S) content varies and mercury (Hg) pollution from combusted petroleum and natural gas is about 10 times less than that which derives from coal (66 Mg/y in the US); however this estimate was based on Hg from US fuel oil of 1,500 kg/y whereas the US EPA estimates Hg from fuel oil at 10,000 kg/y (10 Mg/y: http://www.epa.gov/.../.pdf).
We will initially ASSUME for arithmetic simplicity and â€œball-park estimationâ€ that the oil, gas and coal combustibles used to generate electricity are equally dirty in terms of toxic products and deadly impact â€“ and then go back to assess coal-specific electricity generation using available data on the percentage of fossilâ€“fuel-based electricity generation due to coal burning.
For authoritative information on energy usage we can refer to the US Energy Information Administration (US EIA) that reports official energy statistics from the US Government covering the last quarter century. For all US EIA International data see: http://eia.doe.gov/international and for US EIA data on 2005 thermal electricity production, see http://eia.doe.gov/.../electricitygeneration.html.
The Ontario Ministry of Energy study indicated 668 deaths /27 TWh of coal-based electricity generation = 24.7 deaths/TWh. Using this figure we can estimate annual deaths from fossil fuel-based electricity generation (assuming equality in toxicity of coal, oil and gas burning and other factors such as medical services, population density and environmental protection services). Since Canada has excellent, publicly-accessible medical services, low population density and good environmental protection our estimate for other countries will be under-estimated - however the assumption that coal-burning is no more toxic than the burning of other fossil fuels may lead to over-estimation of the death toll.
Before providing these mortality estimates for all major fossil fuel-burning nations, it is useful to compare the estimates of annual deaths from fossil fuel-based electricity generation (â€œannual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€) with those from coal-based electricity generation (â€annual coal-based electricity deathsâ€) for several key countries. Thus â€œannual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€ for the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are 71,877, 6,854, 5,394, 3,760 and 355, respectively (2005). These estimates are compared with estimates for â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ for these countries.
The US â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ have been estimated at 30,000 : â€œCoal-burning air pollution harms human heath in several different ways. Tiny particles of sulfur and nitrogen from coal burners lodge deep in our lungs, causing as many as 30,000 premature deaths per year, according to the most up-to-date study by EPA consultant Abt Associatesâ€œ. According to Janet Larsen of The Earth Policy Institute it is 25,100 : â€œBy moving beyond coal, the United States could avoid a legacy of smog-filled skies, acid rain, polluted waterways, contaminated fish, and scarred landscapes. This could each year save some 25,000 lives, reduce respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, avert potential neurological damage for 630,000 babies, and erase a health care bill of over $160 billionâ€.
49% of US electricity of 4,065 TWh is from coal i.e. 1,991 TWh (2006: Sources: Wikipedia and EIA) indicating 49,153  â€annual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ as compared to 71,887 â€œtotal annual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€.
The UK produced 409 TWh of electricity in 2005 of which 33.6% was coal-based i.e. 137.4 TWh, this corresponding to 137.4 TWh x 668/27 TWh = 3,399  â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ as compared to 6,854 â€œtotal annual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€.
Australia produced 255 TWh of electricity in 2006 of which 92% was from fossil fuels and 77% was from burning black or brown coal, this yielding an estimate of 0.77 x 255 TWh x 668/27 TWh = 4,858 â€annual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ as compared to 0.77 x 5,394/0.92 = 4,515  â€annual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ (see above) and total â€annual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€ of 5,395 (2005; see above).
Canada produced 567 TWh of electricity in 2003 of which 28% was from fossil fuels and 19% was from coal burning i.e.107.7 TWh and we can calculate 107.7 TWh x 668/27 TWh = 2,665  â€annual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ as compared to 0.19 x 3,760/0.28= 2,551  â€annual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ and 3,760  â€œtotal annual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€.
New Zealand produced 41.6 TWh of electricity in 2005. In 2004, 73% of the total input into electricity generation was from renewable resources(predominantly hydro), 16% was from gas and 11% was from coal i.e. 4.6TWh (2005) corresponding to 114  â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€ as compared to 355 â€œtotal annual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€.
It is useful to compare the above figures from the â€œAngloâ€ countries with those for the World and the major non-European Developing countries China and India using data from the US Energy Information Administration, the World Coal Institute and the Pew Centre on Climate Change (see: http://pewclimate.org/.../coalfacts.cfm). Thus the â€œtotal annual fossil fuel-based electricity deathsâ€ for India, China and the World can be estimated to be 13,319, 47,477 and 282, 945, respectively. In India 69% of electricity is from coal i.e. 456.5 TWh/y corresponding to 11, 276 â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€. In China about 80% of electricity is from coal, corresponding to 1,898 TWh/y and 46,868 â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€. For the World as a whole coal provides 40% of the total electricity i.e. 6,940 TWh/y and corresponding to 171,418 â€œannual coal-based electricity deathsâ€.
The World is not responding to warnings from top climate scientists such as NASAâ€™s Dr James Hansen and his colleagues who are calling for a â€œnegative CO2 emissionsâ€ policy to reduce atmospheric CO2 to a safe level of no more than 350 ppm from the current already dangerous level of 385 ppm (see: http://arxiv.org/.../.pdf and http://mwcnews.net/.../23119/42/). The warnings of such eminent scientists are obfuscated by self-interested climate scepticism, especially from the leading per capita CO2 polluters, the US and Australia.
However the above analysis shows that there is a horrendous reality ALREADY of about 170,000 deaths annually throughout the world from the effects of coal-based electricity generation and as many as 0.3 million deaths annually from pollutants from fossil fuel-based electricity generation in general â€“ a huge death toll that cannot be ignored. Please tell everyone you can.
Dr Gideon Polya published some 130 works in a 4 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London, 2003). He has just published â€œBody Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950â€ (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://mwcnews.net and http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com);
see also his contribution â€œAustralian complicity in Iraq mass mortalityâ€ in â€œLies, Deep Fries & Statisticsâ€ (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007). He is currently preparing a revised and updated version of his 1998 book â€œJane Austen and the Black Hole of British Historyâ€ as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a possibly 100-fold greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the "forgotten" World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others).