March 17, 2011

U.S. Life Expectancy at All-Time High

Filed under: Climate Politics

Back in the fall of 2008, we summarized our arguments that we submitted to the EPA as to the myriad reasons why the EPA should not make a finding that “greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare.” Ultimately, our arguments fell on deaf ears.

Perhaps the most persuasive argument that we made, in our minds anyway, was that the most direct measure of human health and welfare that there is—life expectancy—has increased by about 2/3rds over the past 100 years (Figure 1), while surface temperatures rose about 0.7°C. The EPA thinks that this temperature rise is primarily the result of rising human greenhouse gas emissions (although we think that they are overly confident in this assertion).

Figure 1. Life expectancy at birth in the U.S., 1900-2009 (source: Centers for Disease Control)

Now, don’t get us wrong, we don’t believe that much of the rise in life expectancy is due to climate change, but we do assert that a substantial portion of it come from the benefits derived from a plentiful and inexpensive energy supply, largely from fossil fuels.

And life expectancy just keeps on rising. The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control is that in 2009 the U.S. life expectancy exceeded 78 years for the first time ever. At the turn of the last century, this number was 47.3 years.

In fact, in the life expectancy during 10 of the past 10 years was the highest on record.

These numbers and trends are not what one would expect if climate change/greenhouse gas emissions, in the EPA’s words, “endangered” human health and welfare.

The EPA nonetheless insists upon saving us from ourselves by limiting our emissions of greenhouse gases. For the foreseeable future anyway, the only way to do so is to lower our use of energy—which has the very real possibility of stopping or slowing the growth of life expectancy.

While the EPA apparently is convinced that this is a risk worth taking, a lot of the rest of us aren’t so sure.

A question worth asking: Is our health and welfare more endangered by U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, or by attempts to reduce them?

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