Thursday, May 26, 2011

Driving externalities

Interesting (and kinda scary) example of estimating the external cost of an activity: Pollution from idling vehicles in traffic leads to premature deaths.

Read about it here at USA Today.

3 comments:

Anthony said...

One of the most interesting things that I took from this article is not only that the 2010 health cost of automobile congestion was $18 billion, but that the number has been declining over the past decade.

While this fact is used in a positive context in the story, another way to look at the statistic is to think about how much congestion has cost us in total over the past 10 years.

If we take the ultra-conservative side and assume that every year brought $18 billion in public health costs, we get a decade total of $180 billion. This estimate would be much higher if we included the higher costs for earlier years (the article refers to the fact that the numbers have declined over the decade), the fact that only 83 urban areas were included in the study, and considerations for a time period longer than a decade.

The intriguing thing to consider with these costs is the fact that we have done so little in discovering alternate fuel sources. Granted, we have been recently moving in a very positive direction on that front. However, these numbers add more justification to the already long list of reasons for aggressively pursuing alternate energy sources.

When, in addition to this public health toll and many other costs , we also consider, the non-health related environmental cost of fuel emissions, the impact of the high price of gasoline to consumer's spending potential, the costs from environmental damage occasionally caused by harvesting oil and the military expenses in our government's global conflicts with oil producing countries (controversial but likely applicable), it is difficult to understand why our country hasn't made a collective, all-out commitment to finance and support either the discovery of a new energy source, or an overhaul of our transportation systems.

rockhugger77 said...

This was a pretty interesting article. I've always thought that breathing particulate matter in traffic jams was probably not healthy, this article seems to confirm that. I am surprised that it antiquates to 2,200 deaths per year though. It does make sense though since some folks commit suicide by breathing in the particulates in an enclosed area.

It is alarming, but at the same time somewhat comforting that with cleaner fuels, the death toll could go down considerably. Hopefully with new technology we won't have to worry as much about this problem in the future.

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