Knowledge for better food systems

New models calculate and compare the true costs of various fuels to health, climate and the environment

This research from Duke University presents policymakers with a more accurate framework for estimating the costs of a broad range of health, climate and environmental damages linked to emissions from fossil fuels, industry, biomass burning and agriculture.

The new models show for example that when their environmental and human health toll is factored in, a gallon of gasoline costs us about $3.80 more than the pump price.  The social cost of a gallon of diesel is about $4.80 more than the pump price; the price of natural gas more than doubles; and coal-fired electricity more than quadruples. Solar and wind power, on the other hand, become cheaper than they initially seem. The social cost of a gallon of diesel is about $4.80 more than the pump price; the price of natural gas more than doubles; and coal-fired electricity more than quadruples. Solar and wind power, on the other hand, become cheaper than they initially seem.

Abstract

I present a multi-impact economic valuation framework called the Social Cost of Atmospheric Release (SCAR) that extends the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) used previously for carbon dioxide (CO2) to a broader range of pollutants and impacts. Values consistently incorporate health impacts of air quality along with climate damages. The latter include damages associated with aerosol-induced hydrologic cycle changes that lead to net climate benefits when reducing cooling aerosols. Evaluating a 1 % reduction in current global emissions, benefits with a high discount rate are greatest for reductions of co-emitted products of incomplete combustion (PIC), followed by sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and then CO2, ammonia and methane. With a low discount rate, benefits are greatest for PIC, with CO2 and SO2 next, followed by NOx and methane. These results suggest that efforts to mitigate atmosphere-related environmental damages should target a broad set of emissions including CO2, methane and aerosol/ozone precursors. Illustrative calculations indicate environmental damages are $330-970 billion yr−1 for current US electricity generation (~14–34¢ per kWh for coal, ~4–18¢ for gas) and $3.80 (−1.80/+2.10) per gallon of gasoline ($4.80 (−3.10/+3.50) per gallon for diesel). These results suggest that total atmosphere-related environmental damages plus generation costs are much greater for coal-fired power than other types of electricity generation, and that damages associated with gasoline vehicles substantially exceed those for electric vehicles.

Citation

Shindell, D. T., The social cost of atmospheric release, Climatic Change, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10584-015-1343-0

Read the full paper here and see more coverage from Science Daily here.

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North America

North America is the northern subcontinent of the Americas covering about 16.5% of the Earth's land area. This large continent has a range of climates spanning Greenland’s permanent ice sheet and the dry deserts of Arizona. Both Canada and the USA are major food producers and some of the largest food exporters in the world. Industrial farms are the norm in North America, with high yields relative to other regions and only 2% of the population involved in agriculture.

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