Fossil fuels are bad for your health and harmful in many ways besides climate change

Fossil fuels are bad for your health and harmful in many ways besides climate change
Pumpjacks dot the Kern River oil field outside Bakersfield, Calif. Credit: James William Smith/Shutterstock.com

Many Democratic lawmakers aim to pass a Green New Deal, a package of policies that would mobilize vast amounts of money to create new jobs and address inequality while fighting climate change.

Led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they are calling for massive investments in and other measures over a decade that would greatly reduce or even end the nation's overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels.

As experts in environmental geography, sociology, and sustainability science and policy, we wholeheartedly support this effort. And, as we explained in a recently published study, is not the only reason to ditch fossil fuels.

The , oil and industries are also major contributors to human rights violations, public health disasters and environmental devastation.

Sacrifice zones

While conducting our research, we constantly encounter new evidence that depending on fossil fuels for energy harms people and communities at every point along fossil fuel supply chains, especially where coal, oil and natural gas are extracted.

Fossil fuels require what journalist Naomi Klein calls "sacrifice zones" – places and communities damaged or even destroyed by fossil fuel drilling and mining. But we have observed that politicians and other decision-makers tend to overlook these harms and injustices and that most energy consumers – meaning most people – are generally unaware of these issues.

We see no sign that decisions about new pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure account fully for the harms and costs of these industries to society and the toll taken on nature from pollution and other problems attributable to burning fossil fuels.

Burning coal, oil and natural gas is particularly bad for public health. This combustion generates a lot of air pollution, contributing to 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year.

The Cerrejón open-pit coal mine in Colombia has severely disrupted life for indigenous people across La Guajira.

One Duke University-led study of climate scientists determined that reducing in line with a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, a level that scientists believe could avert disastrous consequences from climate change, would prevent 153 million premature deaths, largely by reducing air pollution.

Some communities are harmed more than others. For instance, EPA researchers studying data collected between 2009 and 2013 found that black Americans are exposed to 1.5 times more pollutants than white people.

Coal

More than 2,000 miners across Appalachia are dying from an advanced stage of black lung disease. This illness, also known as coal workers' pneumoconiosis, comes from inhaling coal mine dust.

And thousands of coal miners have died horrible deaths from silicosis after inhaling tiny silicon particles in mines. And the communities where oil and gas is being extracted are exposed to water and air pollution that endangers their health, such as increasing the risk to certain childhood cancers.

Even living near coal mines or coal-fired power plants is a health hazard.

A team of Harvard school of public health scientists estimated that 53 premature deaths per year, 570 emergency room visits, and 14,000 asthma attacks annually could be attributed to pollution from a coal power plant in Salem, Massachusetts, one of the sites we studied.

What's more, the people living within 30 miles of the coal plant, which was replaced with a natural gas-burning power station in 2018, were between two and five times more likely to get respiratory problems and other illnesses than those living farther away do.

But what we call the "hidden injustices" tied to Salem's coal plant didn't stop there.

The Aliso Canyon gas leak near Los Angeles in 2015 released more than 100,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere.

The plant burned coal imported from La Guajira, Colombia, that was mined from Cerrejón, one of the world's largest open-pit coal mines. That same mine has displaced thousands of indigenous people through physical force, coercion and the contamination of farmland and drinking water.

Natural gas

As coal plants shut down, more natural gas is being burned. That should be cleaner and safer – right? Not exactly.

First, the methane and other greenhouse gases that leak from natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure mean that using gas warms the climate nearly as much as coal does.

Second, fracking, horizontal drilling and the other so-called unconventional methods for extracting natural gas and oil are introducing new dangers. There is growing evidence that living close to fracking sites causes various public health complications including: increased risk of birth defects, certain cancers, asthma and other respiratory ailments, earthquakes, and occupational health and safety problems like exposure to crystalline silica, a type of sand used during fracking.

Many of the Pennsylvanians we interviewed for our study told us that they feared for their health due to their potential exposure to the chemicals and toxicants used in fracking. Other research indicates that living near fracked natural gas wells can increase the probability of skin and respiratory conditions.

At every stage, natural gas operations can pollute water, air and land, harming ecosystems.

In California, a catastrophic natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon storage well in 2016 spewed as much pollution as some 600,000 cars would over a year. Hundreds of neighboring residents experienced nausea, headaches and other health problems.

Natural gas is also highly flammable. Two serious accidents in January 2019, the deadly gas explosions at a bakery in Paris and the more than 89 people killed in Tlahuelilpan, Mexico, highlighted how risky natural gas can be.

In the wake of the Gulf Coast oil disaster, Dr. Farris Tuma, chief of the NIMH Traumatic Stress Research Program, addressed mental health challenges facing residents and health care providers.

Here in the U.S., a series of deadly explosions and gas-fueled fires in September 2018 in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts intensified debates over the future of natural gas.

Oil

Despite global reliance on oil and petroleum products like plastics, oil extraction, whether through traditional drilling technology or fracking, is dangerous. Its distribution by pipelines, trains and trucks is also risky.

Decades of oil spills in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta has made the region one of the most polluted places on earth. And the mining of Canada's tar sands has desecrated land belonging to First Nations, as most of the indigenous people of Canada are known.

In addition to the environmental devastation of massive oil spills like the Exxon Valdez and BP's Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill of 2010, these leaks can cause pollution and serious health hazards.

Phasing out

Like virtually all environmental scholars, we consider global warming to be an urgent and existential threat. We recognize that replacing fossil-fuel infrastructure is an enormous endeavor. But the latest National Climate Assessment, a federal report predicting dire consequences from , showed how ignoring this problem could cost more in the long term.

Based on our research, we believe that phasing out fossil fuels can improve , enhance human rights and empower communities politically. Moreover, a Green New Deal has the potential to create many jobs and enhance global stability.

As the debate about the Green New Deal takes shape, we hope that more lawmakers will recognize that above and beyond the benefits of a more stable climate, phasing out as soon as possible would also improve the lives of many vulnerable communities in the U.S. and around the world.


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Citation: Fossil fuels are bad for your health and harmful in many ways besides climate change (2019, February 7) retrieved 19 April 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-02-fossil-fuels-bad-health-ways.html
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Feb 07, 2019
"we constantly encounter new evidence that depending on fossil fuels for energy harms people and communities at every point along fossil fuel supply chains, especially where coal, oil and natural gas are extracted."

Where's the counterpoint about evidence use of fossil fuels helps people, say by keeping them from freezing in the winter, or their use to transport food? Which is worse, no fossil fuel use or use of fossil fuel? Ridiculous question isn't it?

Let's start by making politicians quit using fossil fuels first: for their transportation, heating, cooling, water purification, medicine production, etc. After a few years of that, they should be able to figure out what to do.


Feb 07, 2019
Where's the counterpoint
Why insist there has to be a counterpoint? It is like saying - lead in gasoline causes brain damage - but we have to make a counterpoint - and recognize that cars are good. Why not just deal with the science - and say let's get lead out of the gasoline? No one is saying let's live without energy. Just saying let's find better ways to generate that energy - that don't kill us.

Feb 07, 2019
Many of us are on the way to do just that, FFM.

My household and two cars run on the power delivered by the PV system on my roof.

Do you still go to gas stations? Have to get oil changes? Emissions checks? Pay for electricity?

Feb 07, 2019
1)There is little actual EVIDENCE that global warming, to the extent it exists, is caused by man made emissions of CO2 or methane. Every model based upon CO2 caused warming has failed.
2) Solar "farms" and wind turbines cause just as much destruction of the locales they are placed in as other forms of energy extraction and are far more damaging to animal and bird life.
3) This is a political propaganda article masquerading as science. Those who wrote it are not "environmental scholars" They are leftist political hacks.

Feb 07, 2019
mrburns
There is little actual EVIDENCE that global warming, to the extent it exists, is caused by man made emissions of CO2
Tell that to every scientists who is actually studying the subject. And what are your qualifications for single handedly challenging this overwhelming body of science?? That is a serious question - please answer it... https://www.ucsus...wCVxKiM8


Feb 07, 2019
You know we are in for some difficult times ahead. We have idiots in Washington, Britain, and Russia that would like the world to proceed into some bastardized conglomeration that excludes China and the European Union from any economic system. It's extremely weird what Trump has made us.

Feb 07, 2019
Fossil fuels were once life , release them and the earth will make them live again !

Feb 09, 2019
@snoosebaum.
Fossil fuels were once life , release them and the earth will make them live again !
So, you ARE a Russian/GOP/Fossil Lobby 'troll factory' employee after all, mate. Just repeating that one-liner 'meme' you were told to post all over the place, including again recently here at PO in thread:

https://phys.org/...html#jCp

And I will post here what I said therein:
The problem is the 'life' back then was not like the 'life' now. You would find it deadly to 'live' if CO2 emissions continue at this rate, mate. :)
You incompetent, pathetic, dumb, repetitive, Russian/GOP etc 'troll-factory' STOOGE, you, @snoose. That should be your moniker on the net: "@incompetentpathetictrollfactorystooge". Suits you down to the ground, snoose. :)

Feb 14, 2019
i have a better one

' Fossil fuel, make it live again '

Feb 14, 2019
@snoosebaum.
i have a better one: ' Fossil fuel, make it live again '
In case you missed it the first two times, snoose...

The problem is the 'life' back then was not like the 'life' now. You would find it deadly to 'live' if CO2 emissions continue at this rate, mate. :)

And also again, snoose,...
You incompetent, pathetic, dumb, repetitive, Russian/GOP etc 'troll-factory' STOOGE, you, @snoose. That should be your moniker on the net: "@incompetentpathetictrollfactorystooge". Suits you down to the ground, snoose. :)
Your above incompetence in response demonstrates my above-suggested new moniker for you on the net was spot on, snoose. Pity.

Feb 15, 2019
BeingOfCorrect's incomplete Toe
@snoosebaum.
Fossil fuels were once life , release them and the earth will make them live again !

And I will post here what I said therein:
The problem is the 'life' back then was not like the 'life' now. You would find it deadly to 'live' if CO2 emissions continue at this rate, mate. :)
You incompetent, pathetic, dumb, repetitive, Russian/GOP etc 'troll-factory' STOOGE, you, @snoose. That should be your moniker on the net: "@incompetentpathetictrollfactorystooge". Suits you down to the ground, snoose. :)

Have you been found wanting yet again in the BeingOfCorrect department, BeingOfCorrect
Snoosebaum has a valid point
Did BeingOfCorrect fail to include < Fossil fuels were once life > in their reality based Toe
Life is constructed of these molecules of Fossil fuels
Your bridge beckons BeingOfCorrect

Feb 15, 2019
BeingOfCorrect - The Circle of Life
The problem is the 'life' back then was not like the 'life' now. You would find it deadly to 'live' if CO2 emissions continue at this rate

Do we detect an essence as to the true meaning of your reality based Toe, BeingOfCorrect
Your reality based Toe in all reality is global warming based on the pretext of carbon dioxide
Of cause the first plants flourished converting carbon dioxide until there was more oxygen molecules than carbon dioxide molecules then as with all life forms the plant population crashed
Where other life forms emerged to occupy these new niches
When the carbon dioxide levels rise to the age of the Plants most animals will be replaced by plants
What is your problem, BeingOfCorrect
it
is
after all
only
The Circle of Life, BeingOfCorrect

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