No, Banning Fossil Fuels Won’t Raise Life Expectancy; Fossil-fueled Electricity Will

Mathematical modeler Caleb Stewart Rossiter of the CO2 Coalition reviews a model-based life expectancy study published in the journal Cardiovascular Research. The model misleadingly projects only the benefits and not the costs of eliminating affordable, reliable, and increasingly clean fossil fuels in favor of expensive, intermittent “renewables.” With only a third of homes having access to electricity, Africa in particular needs additional coal-fired power to reduce the indoor air pollution that the UN estimates kills 400,000 Africans every year.

Dr. Caleb Rossiter September 3, 2020

Letters to the Editor, Cardiovascular Research:

Lelieveld et al. (March 3, 2020) conclude that ending the use of fossil fuels would add one year to global life expectancy, because of reductions in outdoor air pollution.1 This paper is typical of trendy, misleading “climate change” research that focuses only on one side of a cost-benefit analysis. If fossil fuels were banned, far more expensive and less reliable wind and solar grids would be needed to meet even current demand. That would raise prices and reduce exports and economic growth. Life expectancy is strongly influenced by economic growth.

In addition, the alternative of increased reliance on intermittent wind and solar energy would drive up brownouts and blackouts and the resulting back-up, soot-spewing “dieselization” in unreliable grids like Africa’s. Without ready fossil-fueled backup power, a “renewable” grid would collapse daily, at great cost to restart and repair. Ironically, because the mining, refining, construction, and transportation of wind blades, solar panels, and batteries is so fossil-fuel intensive, building enough to replace current methods of power generation would add the very pollutants to the atmosphere that a ban on fossil fuels would eliminate.

China and Sub-Saharan Africa had the same life expectancy in 1960: 44 years. Today, China is at 77, near the U.S. figure of 79, while Africa has only risen to 61.2 For the one billion Sub-Saharan Africans, this represents a loss of 16 billion years of life for not keeping pace with China.

Low access to electricity, at about a third of households and with daily blackouts for businesses, is one of the key causes of Africa’s low level of life expectancy. The primary reason for this is that economic growth in a competitive, global market requires reliable, universal electrification. A secondary reason is that, according to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution is the world’s greatest environmental health risk.

Globally, WHO estimates that three billion people cook, heat, and light inside their homes with solid fuels – wood, charcoal, and dried animal dung. The poisons and particulate matter from burning solid fuels kill almost four million people a year from pneumonia (27%), heart disease (27%), pulmonary disease (20%), stroke (18%), lung cancer (7%), and a variety of impaired immunities. Half of pneumonia deaths in children under five are from soot in the house.3

UNICEF estimates the African share of these annual indoor pollution deaths at 400,000. Dangerous levels of indoor air pollution are almost guaranteed for families without access to electricity. UNICEF reports that 352 million Africa children live in homes with solid fuel cooking.4 One top researcher told the WHO: “Having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour.”5

The coming expansion of Africa’s fossil-fueled grid will help solve the indoor air pollution problem. Even better, the use of “new-tech” electricity generation power and scrubbing technologies would keep the 258,000 annual toll from outdoor air pollution in Africa from rising.6 Researchers concerned with health outcomes of energy production would do well to study all sides of the question. None of the factors I have cited are accounted for in the Lelieveld paper.

Caleb Stewart Rossiter, Ph.D.

Former professor of climate statistics and mathematical modeling, American University

Executive director, the CO2 Coalition



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