Coal kills

  1. Coal kills
  2. Coal’s health bill in America
  3. Australia’s health bill up $6 billion a year
  4. Coal costs the world $5 trillion a year
  5. Clean energy would soon pay for itself
  6. Coal is finite and could run out in a century, and peak well before then

1. Coal kills

It’s a morbid topic, but there is even a scale called the “Death’s per Terrawatt hour” scale. It takes an equivalent measure of energy, the terrawatt hour, and measures how many people die as a result of that energy. Coal is a Chernobyl every week!


Or lets try another common graphic:


“….when coal goes right it kills more people than nuclear power does when it goes wrong. It kills more people every week than nuclear power has in its entire history. And that’s before we take climate change into account.”
George Monbiot – The Guardian 2012

Existing nuclear power has already saved 1.8 million lives in America by offsetting that amount of coal. It’s not surprising. Coal ash is more radioactive than living next to a nuclear power plant. Nuclear wastes are confined – coal ash is hard to confine and regulations hard to implement and police. See:-

Next Big Future: Deaths per TWH by energy source
How Deadly Is Your Kilowatt? We Rank The Killer Energy Sources – Forbes
Want to kill fewer people? Go nuclear
Roar magazine
The Energy Collective shows that tobacco kills 5 million people a year, but nuclear power has probably only killed about 4000 people in its entire history!

2. Coal’s health bill in America

If you think coal is cheap, you should nearly double the electricity bill to include the health bill of coal! Forbes 2012

“Although it is difficult to assign a cost to these numbers, estimates have suggested a 10% increase in health care costs in countries where coal makes up a significant fraction of the energy mix, like the U.S. and Europe (NAS 2010; Cohen et al., 2005; Pope et al., 2002).  These additional health costs begin to rival the total energy costs on an annual basis for the U.S. given that health care costs top $2.6 trillion, and electricity costs only exceed about $400 billion. Another way to describe this human health energy fee is that it costs about 2,000 lives per year to keep the lights on in Beijing but only about 200 lives to keep them on in New York.

Harvard University (August 2016): Coal’s health bill costs America $300 billion every year – which is about half their military budget. What kind of person claims coal is cheap?

3. Australia’s health bill up $6 billion a year – ABC 2018

Australia is missing out on billions in short-term health savings that could come with tougher greenhouse emission targets, experts say.

Air pollution can lead to premature deaths and problems such as heart attacks and asthma, but the economic cost of this is not being pitted against the apparent benefits to the economy of burning fossil fuels, according to Tony Capon, professor of planetary health at the University of Sydney.

He and others point to ballpark figures suggesting the energy and transport sectors alone cost Australia at least $6 billion a year in health problems.

4. WHO: Coal costs the world $5 trillion a year

Currently, over seven million people a year die from exposure to air pollution – 1 in 8 of all deaths. Over 90% of people breathe outdoor air with pollution levels exceeding WHO air quality guideline values. Two-thirds of this exposure to outdoor pollution results from the burning of the same fossil fuels that are driving climate change . 

At the same time, renewable energy sources and storage continue to drop in price, increase in reliability, and provide more numerous, safer and higher paid jobs. Energy infrastructure decisions taken now will be locked in for decades to come. Factoring in the full economic and social consequences, and taking decisions in the public health interest, will tend to favour renewable energy sources, leading to cleaner environments and healthier people…

…Globally, over the past decade, about US$400 billion of taxpayers’ money were spent every year directly subsidizing the fossil fuels that are driving climate change and causing air pollution. Furthermore, private and social costs generated by health and other impacts from such pollution are generally not built into the price of fuels and energy. Including the damage to health and the environment that they cause, brings the real value of the subsidy to over US$5 trillion per year-  more than all governments around the world spend on healthcare

(From WHO – 2020.)

5. Clean energy would soon pay for itself

In light of all this we should remove subsidies to coal and charge them their real costs! I cover this in more detail on my “Remove subsidies” page.

6. Coal is finite and could run out in a century, and peak well before then

Our World In Data draws on the BP statistical review and shows that, as of 2020, our fossil fuel reserves are not as abundant as many might think. Mind you – we still should leave most of them in the ground due to climate change! But even if climate change were not a concern, the fact that these fossil fuels RUN OUT in the following timescales should warn us to get moving. These are R/P ratios – today’s known reserves divided by annual production. Remember that annual energy demand will increase with the global population increase and development in poorer countries. Also remember that these resources will peak and decline in production, bringing an energy crunch that much closer than their final ton or barrel. It’s time to get off fossil fuels, especially coal – now! reserves