Category Archives: Action Project

What would the price of gas be if it accounted for the environmental and health costs of burning it?


The average cost of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. right now is $2.47. If that cost took into account the environmental and human health costs of burning the gasoline, however, it would more than double, according to a new study.

The study, published this week in the journal Climatic Change, created models for the “social cost of atmospheric release,” a method of determining the costs of emissions beyond their market value. According to the study, accounting for the social costs of burning gasoline would add an average of $3.80 per gallon to the pump price, raising the price to $6.27. Diesel has an even higher social cost of $4.80 per gallon.

The study also measured the social costs of other fossil fuels not used at the pump. Coal, for example, would jump from 10 cents per kilowatt hour to 42 cents per kilowatt hour, the study found. And natural gas, which has emerged in recent years as a cheap source of fuel, would see its price rise from 7 cents per kWh to 17 cents per kWh.

In all, according to the study, the environmental costs of producing electricity in the U.S. total $330-970 billion every year.

The costs of coal and natural gas increase when environmental and health-related damages are factored in.

The costs of coal and natural gas increase when environmental and health-related damages are factored in.

CREDIT: Shindell/Climatic Change

Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies use the Social Cost of Carbon to measure the monetary impact of carbon emissions on human health and the environment. But there is no similar measure for fossil fuels in general.

Drew Shindell, professor of climate sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and author of the study, told ThinkProgress that he was interested in putting a price on the health and environmental impacts of pollutants other than carbon because he wasn’t satisfied with the current methods available for comparing sources of energy. People would discuss whether natural gas was more environmentally-friendly than coal, and come to a conclusion using metrics that only took into account the energy source’s global warming potential. But that ignored the fact that burning coal produces copious amounts of other air pollutants besides CO2, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates, and that natural gas produces air pollutants too, though to a lesser extent.

So Shindell worked to develop a way that would take both climate considerations and health and environmental considerations into account when looking at different forms of energy.

“I wanted to do something that would treat both air quality and climate consistently,” he said. “It’s easy to get misleading answers on what’s better for society when you’re only looking at a portion of puzzle.”

Multiple studies have confirmed air pollution’s toll on human health. A study last month found that air pollution in India is cutting three years off the lives of some of the country’s residents, and a more wide-reaching report from the World Health Organization last year found that air pollution is responsible for seven million deaths around the world every year. Shindell said he knew about air pollution’s effect on health, but he was still surprised at just how high the social cost of burning fossil fuels was, according to the study.

And even those costs, he said, are on the conservative side, because the study only included damages that he had enough data on, such as pollution’s ability to contribute to early death, or to send people to the hospital. There are plenty of other impacts — such as air pollution’s impact on children’s IQ, or ocean acidification’s impact on coral reefs — that are difficult to put a price on, and therefore weren’t included in the study.

Ideally, Shindell said he’d like to see this data get worked into the economic market. It might be hard to get places that already have an established carbon market, such as the European Union, to change their pricing to incorporate the social cost of pollutants other than carbon, but Shindell said he thinks there’s more of a chance that states and countries that haven’t yet put a price on carbon could consider his data when determining that price. For countries like India and China that contribute heavily to climate change and have a considerable amount of air pollution, he said, factoring in these social costs makes a lot of sense.

Shindell said incorporating the social costs of pollutants other than carbon into government decisions would help the government get a better picture of each fossil fuel’s true impact, but he’s also hoping that the data can be transformed into a tool Americans can use to determine the costs of their day-to-day activities. Even if the data doesn’t make its way into carbon markets, he said, finding a way to make it “as widely accessible as possible” to the average person would still be beneficial.

Despair and Empowerment Work

Last week, Daniel Greenberg introduced us to the work of Joanna Macy who has been doing this work for many years.  She suggests that as we face an environmental crisis, we must not turn away – but rather must allow ourselves to “feel the pain.”  Here is Joanna Macy speaking about pain.

There are many of her videos on YouTube and her workshop materials on her web page.  For more from Joanna Macy, I can suggest her classic book Coming Back to Life.


Planning an Action Project – Your Thoughts?

A Spiritual Perspective on Environmental Sustainability:

A Call to Action

Brainstorming on “A Call to Action”

Below is a list of some preliminary ideas of what a call to action might look like.   Please add to the list by posting your ideas in the comments box below.

When designing this course, Mary Jo had the idea that the process of environmental action could benefit from a spiritual, ethical, moral or religious perspective, that the integrity of the process could be improved through these perspectives creating processes that were more sustainable in the long term.

In our seminar on February 4 we took the last 20 minutes to brainstorm what an action infused with spirituality would look like. (The purpose of brainstorming is to capture many ideas without evaluating them.)   Mary Jo thought that finding action projects would be easy, but figuring out what adding the spiritual perspective would look like would be hard. However, we brainstormed many such ideas.

One idea that came out of the brainstorming was that we questioned the assumption about the benefit of a spiritual perspective in environmental action. Was this perspective exclusionary?   Effective environmental action can come without an explicit spiritual view. This merits further discussion. Another idea was that spirituality leading to environmental action was in one direction, but it can also go in the other direction with studying and being in nature leading to a spirituality.

Some ideas that were identified include:

  • Making our own environmental declaration
  • Creating a book or pamphlet by compiling ecological songs, prayers, quotes and poems
  • Earth day—poetry slam, songs etc. event
  • A series of earth week seminars on practical environment ideas, composting etc.
  • Tying into the New York City Peace and Planet Initiative on 4/24 to 4/26
  • Reach out to other spiritual groups to collaborate on a project
  • Having an electronic recycling booth during earth week where we might have some literature available.
  • Taking some actions that involve town and gown collaboration

 Please add your thoughts in “comments”!

Resources for the Project:

Implementing a Civic Action Project

Best Practices for a Group Project