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Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy

 

Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy takes a critical look at the potential unintended consequences of using tar sands, shale oil, coal with carbon dioxide capture and storage, biofuels and nuclear energy, while presenting a positive vision for smart grids with renewable sources, green buildings, smart urban growth, and hybrids of power generation for mobile and stationary systems.

This report examines the suite of energy choices available - the "stabilization wedges" - through the health and environmental lens. It is intended to complement assessments of their technological and economic feasibilities.

The methodologies advanced are: 1. Assessing the net energy balance; and 2. Conducting a life cycle analysis of the potential health, ecological and economic consequences of proposed technologies and practices.

Exploring the potential consequences of new technologies can help separate safe solutions to scale up today, from those warranting further research before widespread adoption.

This report draws on precautionary tales passed down by the insurance sector; namely the "long tails" of decades of health, liability and insurance costs from asbestos, tobacco, lead and industrial toxins. The potential risks of mercury released during accidents and disposal of compact fluorescent light bulbs (vs. light-emitting diodes) is a current demonstration of the potential economic ramifications of inadequately assessing health and safety concerns. This report describes the potential side effects of using oil sands, shale oil and biomass to produce liquid fuels for transport; coal combustion with CO2 capture and storage; and nuclear fission. It also provides a positive vision of intelligent grids, green buildings, smart growth and hybrids of clean power generation technologies in mobile and stationary systems.

While broad in scope, these guidelines are not exhaustive, given the accelerating pace of innovation and the need to control emissions of all greenhouse gases. The report pinpoints key private sector financial instruments and addresses the financial architecture needed to enable large-scale shifts in private investments. It highlights the need for a substantial global fund for adaptation and mitigation.

We hope these guidelines help investors, insurers and policymakers make well-informed decisions regarding our future energy system. Weaning society from fossil fuels is the highest priority, given their manifold health, ecological and social costs. We believe that comprehensive, bold, yet careful, planning can support a path that optimizes adaptation and mitigation, maximizes co-benefits and minimizes the unintended consequences for health and the global environment.

July 1, 2008