It seems to be getting tougher to breathe. Schools were shut down in Rybnik, Poland, the first week of January because the pollution posed such a risk to children. Warsaw residents inhale the equivalent of 1,000 cigarettes a year. An estimated 45,000 Poles will die prematurely this year due to air pollution, The New York Times reported.
The nation burns a lot of coal, providing 85 percent of its electricity and 43 percent of its heat. When brutal cold swept into the country in early January, home heating units went into overdrive, and many of them are hugely inefficient.
Sadly, Poland is not the only country where breathing is killing people. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that 90 percent of the people on the planet live in areas with unsafe air pollution levels. If you spend any time looking at the international pages of newspapers and magazines, you’ve probably seen people in Beijing and Delhi walking around with protective masks. The World Bank estimates that air-related deaths cost $225 billion a year. That’s serious money.
The good news is that if the United States and other nations make progress on climate change, we can count on simultaneous progress on cleaning up the air we breathe. As we burn less coal and other fossil fuels, fewer of us will die prematurely. We’ll miss less work. Fewer kids will suffer from asthma. As Dr. Phil Landrigan of Mount Sinai Medical School told Time, “You make the case on public-health grounds, you make a moral case, you make a business case."
“Anyone who fears that the fight against climate change suffered a fatal blow when the United States elected a climate change skeptic should spend a couple of hours with some of the business leaders who are charging ahead toward a no-carbon future,” said William C. Eacho, after he spoke at the winter conference of the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD).
“The conversations I had with representatives of General Motors, Ingersoll Rand, Entergy, ABB, and many other companies boosted my confidence that we will achieve the goal that scientists say we must,” said Eacho, co-founder of the Partnership for Responsible Growth (PRG). “But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”
Eacho delivered the keynote speech at the conference, hosted by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business January 11 and 12. He made the case that with the Trump administration so fervently opposed to federal regulations, a free-market climate solution makes more sense than ever. He also pointed out that the job growth that carbon-funded tax cuts would generate, plus the boost to American global competitiveness, would appeal to President-elect Trump.
A carbon fee would provide a number of benefits besides helping us combat climate change, he told the business audience. “The new administration and the new Congress are eager to create an infrastructure program, cut taxes, and take other steps. But somehow we need to pay for these initiatives--or the national debt will shoot up even faster. A carbon fee of $35 per metric ton, with annual increases, could bring in $2 trillion over ten years. There’s no alternative revenue stream that’s even close.”
While Eacho was speaking at Duke, a coalition of eight business and environmental groups was issuing the Business Backs a Low-Carbon USA statement. More than 530 companies and 100 investors have signed the statement, addressed to President-elect Trump, President Obama, members of Congress, and “global leaders.” Business Backs a Low-Carbon USA kicked off in December 2015 with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal urging U.S. and international leaders to adopt an ambitious climate agreement in Paris.
The baking of planet Earth is proceeding without interruption. Last year was the hottest year on record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — edging out 2015, which had taken the crown from 2014. Of the world's 17 warmest documented years, 16 have come in this century.