The World Bank's Chance to Clean Up Its Coal Act
This is a joint post with Andrew S. Kanter, MD MPH, the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Coal kills. Don't take it from us; that's what International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde told a Washington, D.C., audience recently, noting that coal pollution is responsible for 70,000 premature deaths each year in India alone. Shockingly, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Even in developed countries like the United States, coal burning is responsible for approximately 13,200 deaths, 9,700 hospitalizations, and more than 20,000 heart attacks annually.
Even though this public health catastrophe is entirely avoidable, coal plants are still being built around the world -- even though clean energy can be brought online more cheaply. We have an opportunity to make international coal development a relic of the past, and one man is in the unique position to do this: the World Bank's new president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim.
No one understands the trade-offs between development and public health better than Dr. Kim. He is a lifelong health advocate who cofounded the influential group Partners in Health, and he has tackled the issue head-on in his book, Dying for Growth. He contends that when "the imperatives of growth at any cost increasingly determine economic and social policy and the behavior of global corporations, more people join the ranks of the poor and greater numbers suffer and die." This simple but profound statement underscores why people in villages across India are standing up, fighting back, and even dying to beat back coal pollution.
Thus far, the World Bank has erred on the side of growth at any cost. But we now know the true medical and public health consequences of dirty coal plants. We also know that technology available today can dramatically reduce toxic pollution from coal plants -- including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium. The World Bank has not even required the coal plants it funds to use this technology, ostensibly because it wants to keep costs down and power cheap.
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Executive Director, Sierra Club
Andrew S. Kanter, MD MPH
President of Physicians for Social Responsibility