• Latest News
  • Pitch a Story
  • Work with a Journalist
  • Join the Blog Squad
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Baltimore
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Russia
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Health Care
  • Military
  • Occupy
  • Organize This
  • Reality Asserts Itself
  • US Politics
  • 20,000 People a Year Die From Effects of Fossil Fuel Generation

    James Boyce: Burning fossil fuels not only climate threat but pollutants from process killing people -   December 5, 2012
    Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


    Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

    I support The Real News Network because they do not just parrot the 24 hour news cycle of the mainst - David Pear
    Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


    James K. Boyce is a Professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the Director of the Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment at PERI - The Political Economy Research Institute.


    20,000 People a Year Die From Effects of Fossil Fuel GenerationPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

    A new report entitled Cooling the Planet, Clearing the Air: Climate Policy, Carbon Pricing, and Co-Benefits has come to the conclusion that reducing carbon emission isn't just important because of climate-change issues; it's also important because of our general health and the effect the process of creating carbon emissions has on the entire environment.

    Now joining us to talk about the report is one of the authors, James Boyce. James is director of the program on Development, Peacebuilding, & the Environment at the PERI institute. He's also a professor of economics in Amherst, Massachusetts. Thanks very much for joining us again, James.


    JAY: So it seems to me one of the things, the conclusions one comes to after reading your report is that carbon trading, especially to do with offsets, where in other words a company in the United States or Canada could trade with somebody in Brazil or in India, and they grow more trees, and they keep spewing the stuff out here, it makes no sense.

    BOYCE: The point of the report, Paul, is that when we burn fossil fuels, we not only emit a lot of carbon dioxide, which causes global warming, but we also emit a lot of other nasty stuff that harms people's health. And the amount of nasty stuff that we emit varies from place to place and case to case. And the impacts on people vary, among other things, depending upon how many people live nearby. So the idea that it doesn't matter where we cut emissions, which is basically the idea behind offsets, behind cap and trade, and even behind carbon taxes, that you just put a single price on carbon and let the chips fall where they may, doesn't make a lot of sense once you realize that the public health benefits to be obtained by cutting emissions are far, far greater in some locations than in others.

    JAY: Well, what about coal? Because coal seems to be at the center of this debate, coal-fired power generation.

    BOYCE: Well, coal-fired power plants certainly generate a lot of nasty pollutants along with the carbon dioxide, but for that matter so does oil refining. I mean, one thing about power generation that's important to remember is that power plants tend to be located in less-populated areas and tend to have rather tall smokestacks, whereas refineries also emit a lot of nasty air pollution, and they're often located in very densely populated areas.

    So, to give you an example, Paul, one of the comparisons we make in our report is between two facilities located in Southern California, both of which emit about the same amount of carbon dioxide every year. One of them's a power plant in a place called La Paloma, located about 40 miles outside of Bakersfield, California, and the other is an oil refinery located in Torrance, California, owned by the Exxon Mobil Corporation. Now, the ExxonMobil facility emits about seven times as much particulate matter as the La Paloma power plant, even though they burn about the same amount of carbon dioxide. And moreover, living within six miles of that ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance are about 800,000 people, whereas living within six miles of the La Paloma power plant are about 800 people.

    So when you combine the facts that the refinery emits a lot more particulate matter and that many, many more people are exposed to that particulate matter in Torrance, you have a good argument to be made for ensuring that you get more reductions of emissions in the densely populated, highly polluting refinery than in the less-polluting power plant in a very sparsely populated area.

    So the idea behind cap and trade or behind offsets or behind carbon taxes, that you just have a single price because the damage of the emissions is the same everywhere, doesn't really hold water once we take into account these local impacts on public health.

    JAY: And is it not true that most of the areas or many of the areas where this is happening, where there's a lot of this type of pollution, is in poorer areas?

    BOYCE: That's absolutely right. So, apart from the efficiency argument for directing greater emissions reductions to the places where you have greater public health benefits, there's also a really strong argument in terms of equity or environmental justice. As you say, it does tend to be the case that many of the most polluting facilities are located in low-income neighborhoods and in neighborhoods with large percentages of people of color.

    Let me give you an example of that. One of the most polluting refineries in the country is the ExxonMobil plant—there are two of them, actually, outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The air toxics impacts from the emissions of those refineries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fall disproportionately on people of color, particularly African Americans. So-called minorities account for more than 60 percent of the pollution impacts from those refineries, even though they account for something closer to 30 or 33 percent of the country's total population.

    So we very often find that the places where the benefits to be obtained from cutting emissions are greatest are also places where those benefits will be realized above all by low-income people, people who are least able to afford the health impacts of pollution. When their kids get asthma, they have to take time off work. They have a hard time affording that. They often don't have health insurance to deal with the effects of this pollution. So there's a really good argument—. Go ahead.

    JAY: There's another thing these people can't afford, and that's lobbyists. I mean, these are people that don't have much clout when it comes to passing laws and regulations. If these refineries or the effects of this were affecting wealthier neighborhoods, I suppose we would have heard more about it.

    BOYCE: I think that's absolutely true, Paul. I mean, the question is whether we live in a democracy or a plutocracy. In a democracy, everybody's voice counts equally. In a plutocracy, everybody's dollars count equally. Clearly, where we live is somewhere in between. And to reorient our climate policies in a way that take into account public health benefits means that we also need to reorient our climate politics away from the plutocratic dollars-rule system towards a democratic system that takes into account the well-being of every American regardless of their income, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

    JAY: I guess part of the argument too is that while poor people are more directly affected in these areas by the pollutants, the actual social cost of this production isn't taken into account in terms of health care and all kinds of things.

    BOYCE: Well, absolutely right. I mean, these are what economists call external costs or externalities. So it doesn't figure into the price of your petroleum or your electricity how many people ended up in the hospital or dying prematurely as a result of exposure to the pollutants emitted in the production of that energy. The National Academy of Sciences produced a report three years ago, in 2009, called The Hidden Costs of Energy, in which they estimated that the total premature mortality associated with burning of fossil fuels in the United States was almost 20,000 extra deaths a year, Paul—20,000 a year.

    Now, if you think about it, think back to 9/11, when 3,000 people were killed in those tragic attacks, right, think about how much money and treasure the country has spent since then trying to prevent a repeat of that kind of attack. Think of all the billions spent on war. Think of the millions and millions of hours waiting in line at the airport taking your shoes off. Think about the money, think about the lives lost in trying to prevent that from happening again. And yet in the years since 9/11, we've had about 20,000 deaths a year from the pollution generated by producing fossil fuels. You add that up, that's over 200,000 Americans have died since 9/11. That's like 70 9/11's have happened, right? Imagine how different our energy landscape would look today if we'd done anything close to what we did in responding to the terror attacks of 9/11 to deal with this low-level terrorism of communities and individuals being impacted by pollution as a result of our reliance on fossil fuels. I mean, basically—.

    JAY: Well, doesn't this speak to, then, that market mechanisms, which, number one, take a long time to have effect, two, almost—most of—not all, but most of the market mechanisms are connected to this offset idea, and three, given the sense of urgency, both in terms of climate change and, as you're talking about, the effects on people in the short-term, doesn't that speak to that there just simply needs to be regulation to deal with this?

    BOYCE: Well, I think regulation's important, Paul, for sure. I also happen to think that putting a price on carbon emissions is important in order to give the incentives to individuals and businesses to invest in energy efficiency and invest in clean and renewable energy. So I don't think it's an either/or question. I think you need regulation and you need pricing on carbon.

    The point that we make in our study is that first of all the price on carbon should be higher, given that there are all these extra benefits to be associated with cutting emissions, and secondly, that if we do have a price on carbon, we don't necessarily want to have a one-size-fits-all policy, but instead we want to try to tailor the regulatory system to achieve greater emissions reductions in those communities that are most vulnerable and most heavily impacted by the pollution associated with burning fossil fuels.

    There are various ways that can be done. You can designate priority zones, priority facilities, priority sectors where you want to get extra emissions reductions. You can prevent those sectors from offsetting their emissions or buying permits from others where the public health benefits from emissions reductions are not as great. And you can take some of the revenue that's generated by carbon pricing and plow that back into community benefit funds, as is being done now in California, in order to try to ensure that there are environmental improvements in the communities that are bearing disproportionate burdens from pollution.

    JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, James.

    BOYCE: You bet, Paul. Nice to be with you.

    JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. Don't forget we're in our year-end fundraising campaign. Every dollar you donate gets matched. So over here somewhere is a Donate button. Please click on it, and we can keep doing this.


    DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


    Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at


    Latest Stories

    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Ukraine Transitional Gov't Moves Militarily To Reclaim Seized Buildings
    IPCC Report Flawed By Narrow Focus on Carbon Emissions
    The Modern History of Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (5/9)
    Obama Signs Directives to Reduce the Gender Wage Gap
    Eastern Ukraine Lacks Political Representation in Kiev
    Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report
    Hypersurveillance State Won't Prevent Another Boston Marathon Bombing
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Univ. of Maine Faculty Reinstated After Students Protest Against Cuts
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/9)
    IMF Will Address Global Inequality, Says Managing Director Christine Lagarde
    Raising Big Banks' Leverage Ratio Good, But Not Nearly Enough
    TRNN Replay: Austerity Road to 19th Century
    Has Palestinian Maneuvering Revived Peace Talks?
    Late Jackson Mayor Lumumba's Son Wins Primary to Replace His Father, Runoff Election Ahead
    Quebecers Reject PQ and Elect a Liberal Government Representing Big Business
    TRNN Debate: Decriminalization vs. Legalization
    The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/9)
    "Off With His Head": Court Upholds Obama's Power to Kill
    Workers at Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages
    From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/9)
    Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame
    Ukrainian Protesters in the East Demand More Autonomy From Kiev Government
    Hunger Strikers Demand President Obama Halt His Record 2 Million Deportations
    Indian Parliamentary Elections - A Primer With Vijay Prashad
    West Looks to Carve Up Ukraine & Privatize Industries Held by Kleptocrats
    Where Are Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations Headed?
    The Multiple Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia (5/5)
    Do the Afghan Presidential Elections Signify Progress?
    Republican Presidential Hopefuls Pay Homage to Billionaire Casino Tycoon Sheldon Adelson
    Will Extremist Lieberman Become Israel's Next Prime Minister?
    Why do the Saudis Want the US to Attack Iran? (4/5)
    Immigrant Advocates and Families Tell President Obama 'Not One More'
    Elections, Pipelines, and Protests - The Canada Panel
    Chris Hedges on "Israel's War on American Universities"
    Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing
    Yellen Talks the Talk But Will She Walk the Walk?
    Hopkins Hospital Workers Speak Out against "Poverty Wages"
    Will Venezuela's New Floating Exchange Rate Curb Inflation?
    The European Central Bank's War on Wages is Pushing Europe's Economy to the Brink
    Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash
    Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90
    Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda Monster (3/5)
    Maryland Residents Voice Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Export Facility
    Supreme Court Ruling Gives Wealthy Individuals More Influence Over Elections
    What are the Saudis Afraid Of? - Madawi Al-Rasheed (2/5)
    Baltimore's MICA Adjunct Professors Set to Vote on Unionization
    Boycott of Israel Moving to Next Level?
    Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship
    Immigration Reform in the Shadows of Cesar Chavez's Legacy
    Leaked Senate Report Shows Use of Torture As "Ineffective"
    UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide
    The Hypocrisy of US Calling for Enforcement of International Law
    How the Ecuadorian Economy Grew in a Global Recession
    'Shadows of Liberty' Trailer
    Kristina Borjesson on Why CBS Shut Down Her investigation into Flight 800 (2/8)
    Glen Ford on Racism in the American Media (3/8)
    Paul Jay on What Drives Corporate Media and What Drive The Real News (4/8)
    Creating a New Media Paradigm After Citizens United (5/8)
    Should The Left Engage with the Mainstream Media? (6/8)
    What Is the Financial Backing For The Real News? (7/8)
    Standing up to Character Assassination (8/8)
    Oligarchs, Fascists and the People's Protest in Ukraine
    TRNN Debate: Is Obamacare In the Interest of Workers?
    Too-Big-To-Fail Advantage Remains Intact For Big Banks
    Obama and the Saudi Agenda
    TRNN Replay: Investigating the Saudi Government's 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment - Sen. Graham on Reality Asserts Itself pt 1
    The Iraq War's Real Legacy
    Petitions with 100,000+ Signatures Call for Snowden's Passport to be Reinstated
    We Need to Harness People Power - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)
    BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel
    Jonathan Schell - 1943-2014: Board Member of TRNN on Why We Need The Real News
    Teachers on Strike from the UK to Argentina
    Connecticut Poised to Become First State with $10.10 Minimum Wage
    Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife and Local Economy
    DC School Test Scores Up, But Poor Black Kids Are Doing Worse - Andy Shallal on RAI (3/4)
    Obama's Proposal To End NSA Bulk Data Collection Won't Protect Privacy
    How Google, Apple & The Biggest Tech Companies Colluded to Fix Workers' Wages
    An American Should be One that Questions Their Government - Andy Shallal on RAI (2/4)
    What's Driving Putin & Obama's Posturing on Ukraine?
    Hundreds of Students & Faculty Occupy College Campus to Fight Cuts to Public Higher Ed
    Due Process 'Impossible' In Harsh Death Sentencing Of Over 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members
    Has Anglo-American Capitalism Run Out of Steam?
    Being the "Other" in America - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (1/4)
    TRNN Debate: Should Baltimore 'Ban The Box'?
    How Fallujah Became the Iraqi Government's New Battleground
    Why I Decided to Blow the Whistle on the NSA
    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat To Humanity
    Professor Who Teaches Israel-Palestine Conflict Accuses College of Violating His Academic Freedom
    CIA and NSA Wrongdoing Requires Independent Investigation, Says Former Church Committee Staff
    Are Tuition Breaks Enough To Combat High Student Debt And Low Graduation Rates?
    Industries Across the U.S. Are Stealing Wages From Their Lowest Paid Workers
    Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?
    NSA Recording All International Calls From U.S.
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (2/2)
    BP Gets Green Light to Drill in Gulf, But Has Safety Improved?
    Residents Still Not Drinking Tap Water Two Months After West Virginia Spill (1/2)
    Libya's Descent Into Turmoil Three Years After NATO Intervention
    From Pipelines to Peladeau - Canadian Report
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (1/2)
    Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Strikes Back Against Austerity
    Libya Three Years Later - Chaos and Partition
    Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?
    Should Ukraine and West Accept De Facto Crimea Joining Russia? (2/2)
    Tony Benn Saw Socialism as the Culmination of Democratization
    Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi? (2/2)
    Crimea Referendum: Self Determination or Big Power Manipulation? (1/2)
    Sen. Graham: President Must Side with Openness About CIA and 9/11
    Manufacturing a Narrative for War - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3)
    Protesters Hit the Streets of Brooklyn to Demand $15 Minimum Wage
    Hammer: 'Moral Bankruptcy' Behind Massive GM Recall
    White House Withholds Thousands of Documents from Senate CIA Probe
    I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter on RAI (1/3)
    Western European Banks Vulnerable to Ukrainian Sovereign Debt Crisis
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (2/2)
    CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?
    Will Tipped Workers Get Excluded Again From Minimum Wage Hike?
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (1/2)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi?(1/2)
    TRNN Replay: A Look at Who's Poised to Become No.2 at the Fed
    How Right-Wing Nationalism Rose to Influence in Ukraine (2/2)
    Netanyahu Attacks Boycott As Campaign Enters New Phase
    Moving Towards a Police State - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (7/7)
    Fighting Reagan's Secret, Illegal Wars - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (6/7)
    Puerto Rican Independence Movement and Cuba Further Radicalized Me - Michael Ratner on RAI (5/7)
    The Butcher of Attica - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (4/7)
    MLK and a Radicalizing Moment in American History - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (3/7), Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

    All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network.  Click here for more

    Problems with this site? Please let us know

    Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting