The Safina Center

Oil slick, Gulf of Mexico, 2010Oil slick, Gulf of Mexico, 2010Photo taken by: Carl Safina

Cost vs Price

The price of electricity from wind and solar is currently higher in most places in the world than electricity generated by fossil fuels.  But the true cost of fossil fuels is unsustainable—and hidden.

Fossil fuels cost trillions of dollars in health care, resource security, subsidies, and lost ecosystem services through environmental degradation.

According to the World Health Organization, up to 13,000 deaths per year among children across Europe are directly attributable to outdoor pollution.  In the US, approximately 64,000 premature deaths from cardiopulmonary causes may be attributable to particulate air pollution each year.  We all pay for these costs in ways large and small.

Controlling and ensuring easy access to fossil fuels also incurs heavy costs.  At worst, it causes wars and is a threat to national security.  At best, it costs billions of dollars in taxpayer’s money.

Ecosystem services, or the benefits of nature to people, are also impacted by fossil fuels.  The pollution from burning fossil fuels adds carbon to our atmosphere, causing planetary warming.  Such warming causes many problems.  It is a boost to some insects, which damage valuable forests, and warming negatively impacts coastal wetlands, which support ocean life and protect towns and cities.

Burning coal, which is the largest source of electricity production in the US, also sends mercury into the air.  Methyl mercury in the ocean accumulates in many types of fish.  Not all seafood is contaminated, but many large fish have high enough levels of mercury to warrant limited consumption.

When all of these additional costs – known as externalities — are considered, the true costs of fossil fuels are not reflected in the price at the pump or meter, but we all pay these costs just the same.

3 things you can do to support clean energy:

1. Get involved with local/regional/national efforts to establish renewable sources of energy.
2. Support clean energy businesses.
3.Change your driving habits to conserve fuel – walk, ride a bike or carpool.

Other great ways you can make a difference.


Whole Coal Story – Huffington Post
Value of Ecosystem Services – World Research Institute

Direct Subsidies Are the Tip of the (Melting) Iceberg – Grist

The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels – Union of Concerned Scientists

Green Vehicles – Wikipedia

Cost of Coal $500 Billion, Harvard Study – Clean Technica
The Roads Aren’t Free, Redefining Progress
Further Reading on Ecosystem Services


Related Videos:

Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels, Democracy Now

A new report by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in hidden costs. The study estimated that nearly 20,000 people die prematurely each year from air pollutants emitted by power plants and vehicles.

Ocean of Truth, Conservation International

The overview of the monetary value — the ecosystem services — of the ocean with great imagery.

What’s the price of gasoline? In the U.S. it’s about $4 a gallon. But some experts say the true price of gas is much higher. What about the costs of pollution, and the global and local problems caused by it? Who pays for those? This animated feature from the Center for Investigative Reporting calculates the carbon footprint and other “external costs” of gasoline use in the U.S.