Solar energy could prevent thousands of early deaths in the U.S.: study

A new study suggests solar energy could save thousands of lives in the United States. Getty Images

A new study suggests switching to solar power could prevent thousands of premature deaths in the United States.

The research, conducted by Michigan Technological University, found that 51,999 deaths could be prevented each year if the country switched from energy produced by burning coal to solar power. In 2013, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study estimated that air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths annually.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution can cause illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory infections. Switching to cleaner energy can, over time, improve air quality and prevent these diseases, the organization says.

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While converting all coal energy to solar would cost the United States about $1.5 trillion, the Michigan study says the investment would be profitable.

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s 2017 report found that solar energy employment increased by 25 per cent last year. It added that more than 260,000 Americans work for solar firms.

“In addition to saving lives, solar is producing electricity, which has economic value,” Joshua Pearce, a professor at the university, said in the press release.

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Pearce came to the conclusion by gathering data from other researchers and the Environmental Protection Agency. His team calculated the cost of installing solar energy by using numbers from the Department of Energy.

“My overall takeaway from this study is that if we’re rational and we care about American lives — or even just money — then it’s time to end coal in the U.S.,” said Pearce.

The study was released Thursday, the same day U.S. President Donald Trump announced his internationally criticized decision to exit the Paris climate accord.

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On Friday, Trump’s top economic adviser defended the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, saying it will help keep energy markets competitive and allow for a potential comeback in coal prices and the U.S. coal industry.

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National Economic Council director Gary Cohn said that despite competition from cheap natural gas, “at some point in the cycle, coal will be competitive again.”

— With a file from The Associated Press. 

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