Social Cost of Carbon


The social cost of carbon is defined as the economic damage done by one ton of carbon dioxide emissions and  is used by federal agencies when weighing the costs and benefits of carbon-reducing regulations, such as appliance efficiency standards or fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.  Depending on who is calculating the cost, though, the cost can vary widely.  The federal government’s current estimate of the social cost of carbon is at $21 per ton; many organizations argue that the true cost is actually much higher.
Social costs of carbon include:

Environmental Impacts

  • higher global temperatures
  • extreme weather events such as droughts and floods,
  • rising sea levels,
  • agricultural losses
  • wildfires
  • climate change refugees

Human Impacts

  • heart disease,
  • cancer
  • stroke
  • chronic lower respiratory diseases

Learn More

1. This peer-reviewed report, “Climate Risks and Carbon Prices: Revising the Social Cost of Carbon“, was published by Economics for Equity and the Environment Network in 2011, and was co-authored by Frank Ackerman, Ph.D. and director of Stockholm Environment Institute’s Climate Economics Group and senior economist Elizabeth A. Stanton, Ph.D.

The report found that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere results in as much as $893 in economic damages and that the  government’s current estimate of $21/ton is based on fundamentally flawed methodologies and grossly understates the potential impact and uncertainty of climate change.
To read more or to download the full report, click the link above

The Stockholm Environment Institute has a synopsis and further reading here.

2. Coal’s Assault on Human Health

In 2009, Physicians for Social Responsibility released a groundbreaking medical report, “Coal’s Assault on Human Health,” which takes a new look at the  impacts of coal on the human body. “Coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health. This report looks at the cumulative harm inflicted by those pollutants on three major body organ systems: the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, and the nervous system. The report also considers coal’s contribution to global warming, and the health implications of global warming.”
To view or download the full report, click the link above

3. Mining Coal, Mounting Costs – The Life Cycle Consequences of Coal from the Center for Health
and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School (2011)

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.

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. The images are intended to convey the full scope of the impacts. There are: a) measurable effects, b) economically- evaluated impacts,1 and c) qualitative consequences from each life cycle stage of coal. We focus on Appalachia, though coal is mined in other regions of the U.S. and is burned throughout the world.

1The calculations make use of the Value of Statistical Life (VSL), an estimate expressing the benefits of reducing mortality risk in monetary terms. VSL = $7.5 million; all figures in 2008 U.S. dollars.

To view or download the full report, click the link above

4. The Dirty Truth About Coal: Why Yesterday’s Technology Should Not Be Part of Tomorrow’s Energy Future (June 2007) by Alice McKeown and The Sierra Club

“From mining to burning to combustion wastes, using coal for electricity scars lungs, tears up the land, pollutes water, devastates communities, and makes global warming worse. Learn about coal’s dirty secrets that have serious societal and economic consequences in our brand new report, “The Dirty Truth about Coal: Why Yesterday’s Technology Should Not Be Part of Tomorrow’s Energy Future.””
To view or download the full report, click the link above

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