January 7, 2020
With one or two notable exceptions, everyone on the planet understands that coal is the dirtiest fuel used to generate power, and eliminating coal would go a long way toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
And, according to a University of California San Diego study recently published in Nature Sustainability, while the shift from coal to natural gas has reduced carbon dioxide emissions overall, it has also changed local pollution levels at hundreds of areas around the country, saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars in the process.
The study found that, between 2005 and 2016, the shutdown of coal-fired units saved an estimated 26,610 lives and 570 million bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat in their immediate vicinities. The inverse calculation, estimating the damages caused by coal plants left in operation over that same time period, suggests they contributed to 329,417 premature deaths and the loss of 10.2 billion bushels of crops, roughly equivalent to half of year’s typical production in the U.S.
This is not, of course, to suggest that natural gas is environmentally benign. But it sure beats coal.