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How to Save 50,000 Lives per Year

Shifting to clean energy sources would do the trick, according to UW research.

Illustration of silhouetted smoke stakes creating an ominous skull-shaped cloud

Shifting to clean energy sources can provide enormous benefits for public health in the near term while mitigating climate change in the longer term. Danielle Lawry

Eliminating air-pollution emissions from energy-related activities in the United States would prevent more than 50,000 premature deaths each year and provide more than $600 billion in benefits annually from avoided illness and death, according to a new UW study.

The study reports the health benefits of removing dangerous fine particulates released into the air by electricity generation, transportation, industrial activities, and building functions like heating and cooking. These are also major sources of carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change, since they predominantly rely on burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.

“Our work provides a sense of the scale of the air-quality health benefits that could accompany deep decarbonization of the U.S. energy system,” says Nick Mailloux PhDx’24, lead author of the study and a graduate student at the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “Shifting to clean energy sources can provide enormous benefit for public health in the near term while mitigating climate change in the longer term.”

UW professor Jonathan Patz, senior author of the study, thinks it could motivate more action on climate change.

“My hope is that our research findings might spur decision makers grappling with the necessary move away from fossil fuels to shift their thinking from burdens to benefits,” he says.

Published in the Winter 2022 issue

Tags: climate change, Environment, Faculty, Health and medicine, Research, Science

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