You read that right, and no this is no get rich quick scheme. Air pollution from energy related industries in the US contributes to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and respiratory illness. Medical treatment of these conditions costs $600 billion annually and the conditions contribute to the deaths of 50,000 people.
Mailloux et al (2022) asked what the impacts would be if we got rid of emissions of fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. If the entire US cut these emissions people would be healthier and we’d spend less on health care. This seems like a great idea. Short term gain in health, long term gain in overall sustainability and health of the planet
So, why do I think this is unlikely to inspire change? It goes back to my discussion of value from a couple years ago. Unfortunately, decreasing spending on health care because people are healthier is actually bad for our current economic model. That’s $600 billion not in the economy. Okay, maybe a little less than that because presumably those people would miss less work but still significant.
The other issue is that it isn’t a direct connection. People don’t check the particulate levels and think it’s a bad day for heart disease. At most, we connect poor air to things like asthma but I don’t think a lot of people think of people dying from this, even though they do.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that data like this motivates large scale change. I hope that the idea of saving lives motivates change. I hope.