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Is global warming damaging your health?

Summer 2018 in Ireland experienced heat that it hasn’t experienced in more than 40 years with temperatures soaring above 30℃. The reality of this situation? It was an indication that our atmosphere is overloading with carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions, trapping heat around the Earth. So, when we were soaking up the sunny weather this Summer, climate change was staring us right in the face.

Global warming is no longer a future threat. It is threating our health, economy and future right now. Our reliance on fossil fuels is contributing to serious environmental and health issues. In order to combat this, alternative solutions such as renewable energy need to be utilised. Generating electricity with fossil fuels increases greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Increased levels of carbon dioxide cause radiation at ground level. Another harmful impact is the displacement of oxygen caused by the release of carbon dioxide which is linked with lung problems, heart attacks and cancer to name a few. One of the main barriers to implementing renewable energy infrastructure is that not many people consider these health impacts that fossil fuels pose. If we consider how much carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels are burnt compared to renewable energy, this will give a quick insight into the danger we are putting our bodies through. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists in USA, burning fossil fuels released between 0.6 and 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour; coal emits between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. However, if we consider renewable energy such as wind energy, it only contributes to 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour on a life-cycle basis. Pollution affects everyone.

Having mentioned the affect fossil fuels have on air, it doesn’t stop there. With about 70% of our earth covered by water, it is an important element in our daily lives. Water is used in both domestic and industrial tasks. However, fossil fuels have a significant impact on water pollution. Water is a solvent, allowing every pollutant to contaminate it. Drinking water is considerably polluted by coal mining and natural gas drilling. When extracting coal, many other harmful chemicals are released and enter the water supply. This ultimately leads to health problems.

The important message to remember here is that renewable energy simply doesn’t produce the extent of pollution that fossil fuels produce. Wind and solar energy require no water to run and as a result, do not pollute water resources. Also, wind and solar energy do not produce carbon dioxide waste and therefore, do not create air pollution. A study from Harvard University was released to show the monetary value of renewable energy projects in terms of improved public health. They discovered that energy efficiency measures and low-carbon energy sources can save a region between $5.7 million and $210 million annually, based on the accepted dollar value of human life. Yet, when it comes to renewable energy, people are more concerned on focusing on the disadvantages – “the turbines for wind energy are noisy and unaesthetically pleasing”. So, I’ll leave you with this question:

What means more to you, the aesthetic of the landscape or your health?

This blog is written by Julie McGarrigle from the Viridious team and edited by Ellen Le Bas. Viridious is part of the 2018 UCD Sustainability Launchpad led by UpThink in association with the UCD Energy Institute and sponsored by our Industry Partners IWEA. If you have any questions about the Launchpad programme email mary.cronin@upthink.works.

Mary Cronin