September 6, 2020 Read More →

Bushfire season is reminder of externalities of fossil fuel burning

Women’s Agenda:

I grew up in the Latrobe Valley, heartland of Victoria’s electricity generation and coal mining. My dad worked at Yallourn, my grandfather and uncle worked at Hazelwood, and my family proudly produced the electricity that many Australians take for granted. 

Yet my mother refused to live anywhere where we could see a power station smokestack. She  – a nurse – understood first-hand the devastating human price of coal-burning power generation.  

Those of us with homes around power stations didn’t have access to pollution information. But the health impacts associated with coal pollution were something people expected or assumed because they watched dirty smoke emitted from stacks 24/7, and had to brush coal dust off their washing and verandas. Now, studies are documenting the horrors that exposure to power station pollution can inflict or worsen: lung disease, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, babies born with low birthweight, Type 2 diabetes and in the most severe cases, brain damage in young children and teenagers, cerebral palsy and birth defects. 

Australians pay a deadly $2.4 billion health bill for this public health crisis. In a new report released this week by Environmental Justice Australia, a team of actuaries modelled the economic cost of the health impacts of air pollution from coal-fired power. They found that the health bill is $2.4 billion annually on conservative estimates, or more than two-thirds of federal government spending on the COVID healthcare package. 

The report, based on conservative modelling, quantifies the extent to which big polluters get off scot-free for polluting far more than other countries allow, while Australians pay the cost with their health and their lives. 

“Whenever our politicians parrot the fact-free mantra that coal is cheap, they ignore all of these till-now uncosted externalities,” said Tim Buckley, Director of Finance Studies, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, when the report was released. 

[Bronya Lipski]

More: As bushfire season approaches in the midst of a health pandemic, reducing Australia’s air pollution has never been this urgent

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