Apocalyptic future scenarios, crushing costs of adaptation, sacrifices required – this is the typical framing of the climate crisis discussion. What if I told you it’s not all doom and gloom? This article is about the benefits of taking meaningful climate action.
First off, why is it important for UHNers to take action against climate change? As we know, climate change is a serious issue for healthcare and taking action will be mandatory to maintain a livable world for ourselves in the future as well as our kids. In a previous blog, Talkin’ Trash looked at the actions individuals can take to fight the climate crisis. Many analyses tend to focus on the up front financial costs of climate action, however these often don’t take into account the full life-cycle benefits. So, what are some of the benefits of climate action?
Reduction in Air Pollution
In Toronto I find myself holding my breath sometimes as I walk through clouds of diesel exhaust from buses, trucks, and construction sites. Converting these vehicles to electric power will not only reduce CO2 emissions, but also prevent many people from inhaling toxic and carcinogenic exhaust fumes. With every diesel and gas vehicle removed by active transport or switched to electric we are reducing the amount of air pollution in populated areas. This could have a positive impact on urban health.
As Lisa mentioned, since Ontario eliminated coal power from the utility grid, we have also virtually eliminated smog days. This project was also the largest single climate action taken so far in North America (even larger than BC implementing a province-wide carbon tax).
Reduction in Noise
Electric vehicles are well known for being extremely quiet compared to their fossil fueled counterparts. Streets are much more pleasant and healthy places without the sounds of engines screaming by. Reducing CO2 emissions by reducing personal vehicle travel and by converting necessary vehicles to electric will have a side benefit of noise reduction.
Active Transportation May Cause Weight Loss
Perhaps one of the ways you can cut CO2 emissions is by driving less and walking/biking more? Well, good news! Instead of sitting in traffic, you are getting free exercise, potentially losing weight, and potentially feeling better. You might not even need that expensive gym membership any more.
With so much air being taken up in the media arguing about pipelines and oil, it often gets missed that the clean tech industry in Canada actually employs more people than the fossil fuel industry and is growing faster than the overall economy. Encouraging CO2 reduction and becoming technology leaders should continue to boost the economy and increase job numbers.
Although emission reduction measures often have an upfront cost, there is typically a reduction in energy consumption and related cost savings. An analysis from the website Cleantechnica shows that under certain driving assumptions, a Tesla Model 3 can have a lower 5 year cost of ownership than a Toyota Corolla. Check out this presentation from Mark Perez of Clean Power Research, which analyzes the utility grid in Minnesota and demonstrates through modeling that a renewable (wind and solar) grid with battery storage and small amount of gas backup can provide firm power supply at extremely low cost (even in a cold northern climate like Minnesota).
There are many many examples on this very blog of UHN projects that cut emissions while simultaneously saving huge on utilities. Just one example, last year’s deep lake cooling project at Toronto General Hospital cut CO2 emissions by 269 tons per year. This project is also saving UHN $22M over 20 years with a 4.2 year payback on our capital investment, so don’t let the naysayers tell you that cutting CO2 emissions always costs a lot of money!
By focusing on all these benefits to cutting CO2 emissions, perhaps we can overcome some of the institutional inertia holding back necessary actions to stabilize our climate. Leadership is all that is needed to overcome this issue. Luckily, there are plenty of leaders calling for action. Greta Thunberg is my favorite!
This blog post reminds me of an old cartoon by Joel Pett:
OK fine, just a little doom and gloom: All-time temperature records tumble again as heatwave sears Europe