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New research: Air pollution from fossil fuels costs the world $8 billion every day

by Ryan Schleeter

February 12, 2020

A new report [1] from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) found that air pollution from burning coal, oil, and natural gas accounts for an estimated 4.5 million deaths each year worldwide. The report is the first of its kind to assess the global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels.

Researchers also estimate global economic losses from fossil fuel air pollution at $2.9 trillion each year, or approximately 3.3 percent of global GDP.  In the United States alone, air pollution from burning fossil fuels is linked to an estimated 230,000 deaths and $600 billion in economic losses annually.

Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman said:

“The fossil fuel industry is committing mass murder and the Trump administration is helping them get away with it. In the United States and around the world, Black, Brown, and Indigenous people are the first to feel the impacts of extraction and exploitation, including the devastating consequences of air pollution. The economic impact of fossil fuel air pollution is staggering, but the tragic loss of life is what makes continued political and financial support for the fossil fuel industry morally unacceptable.”

Additional key findings from the report include:

  • China Mainland, the United States, and India bear the highest financial costs from fossil fuel air pollution worldwide, at an estimated $900 billion, $600 billion, and $150 billion per year, respectively.
  • Each year, an estimated 40,000 children die before their fifth birthday because of exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution from fossil fuels, primarily in low-wealth countries.
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion in vehicles, power plants, and factories, is linked to roughly 4 million new cases of asthma in children each year. Approximately 16 million children worldwide are living with asthma due to exposure to NO2 pollution from fossil fuels.
  • Globally, PM2.5 air pollution from fossil fuels is attributed to roughly 1.8 billion days of work absence due to illness each year, equating to approximate annual economic losses of $101 billion. In the United States alone, PM2.5 air pollution from fossil fuels is attributed to approximately 429,000 asthma-related trips to the emergency room each year.
  • Policies to rein in the fossil fuel industry have become a consistent focus in the 2020 election. Every Democrat remaining in the race has committed to ending fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and ending or reducing fossil fuel subsidies [2].

Such policies are popular with US voters, as well. According to a November 2019 poll [3] conducted by Civis Analytics on behalf of Greenpeace, two in three voters supported ending the production of fossil fuels. Half of those voters supported ending production immediately.

Redman continued:

“We all deserve a world beyond fossil fuels: a world in which workers’ safety, community health, and our shared climate come before corporate profits. Trump and the oil lobbyists in his cabinet are standing in the way of that future. They love to brag about clean air and clean water, but their policies have caused nothing but pollution, especially for working-class people and communities of color.

“Our next president must begin the phaseout of oil, gas, and coal — using common-sense policies like the crude oil export ban and ending fossil fuel leasing on public lands — and champion a Green New Deal. Our movement demands a reckoning for those who profit off the backs of marginalized communities.”

ENDS

Notes:

[1] A media briefing is available here. The full report is available here.

[2] The interactive candidate scorecard is available here, a detailed breakdown by candidate is available here, and the scoring methodology is available here.

[3] Full poll results available here.

To maintain independence, Greenpeace USA does not endorse or oppose any political party, candidate, or elected official. We work to hold all candidates for office to the standard that science says is necessary to avert climate crisis, which means supporting a Green New Deal and ending fossil fuels.

Contacts:

Ryan Schleeter, Senior Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: +1 (415) 342-2386, [email protected]

Greenpeace International Press Desk: +31 (0) 20 718 2470, [email protected] (available 24 hours)

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is a senior communications specialist with Greenpeace USA covering climate and energy. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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