Mining Coal, Mounting Costs: The life cycle consequences of coal

Oysters at Brevard Zoo, Viera FL

Energy is essential to our daily lives, and for the past century and a half, we have depended on fossil fuels to produce it. But, from extraction to combustion, coal, oil and natural gas have multiple health, environmental, and economic impacts that are proving costly for society. We estimate that the life cycle impacts of coal, and the waste stream generated, are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half a trillion dollars annually.

Coal carries a heavy burden. The health and environmental hazards stem from exploration, extraction, processing, transport, and combustion, and the large waste stream of air and water pollutants generated. Coal combustion, in over 600 U.S. power plants, also contributes to global warming. The proposed technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS) addresses climate-altering carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – one of coal’s by-products – but comes with its own set of costs and risks. 

This pamphlet is an executive summary of an extensive publication on the true costs of coal "Full cost accounting for the life cycle of Coal," published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. The graphics are intended to convey the full scope of the impacts, including a) measurable effects, b) economically evaluated impacts, and c) qualitative consequences from each life cycle stage of coal.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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