Backyard Talk

If You Care About the Economy, You Should Also Care About Pollution

By: Sophie Weinberg, Intern
Money is the driving force behind many industries in the United States, and those that pollute are no exception. It is a common perception that those industries, such as coal mining, are vital to the economy, when in reality pollution that results from those industries is detrimental to economic success. Particularly, the burden of disease that comes from pollution has an immense price tag. Despite the real reason, the costs of these diseases are not typically attributed to pollution and are instead lumped in with general health expenditures. Beyond the direct costs of caring for patients who are battling life-threatening pollution-related diseases, there are also the indirect costs of decreased productivity associated with those employees missing work which then lowers the GDP of a country. This loss of GDP is estimated at $53 billion in higher income countries. That is an incredible sum of money that could be used in a wide variety of programs to build up vulnerable communities. Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA has decided to not enforce environmental regulations in order to give polluting industries an economic break. This decision will not only add more pollution to the air, but more people will suffer the effects of coronavirus as it is a respiratory illness. The economy will ultimately become more damaged as all industry remains closed to respond to the large amount of sick people.
Beyond the cost of disease, governments also must contribute large sums of money to mitigate environmental threats that could have been prevented originally. The Michigan government, for example, settled on setting aside $97 million in order to replace corroding lead pipes in Flint, when the decision to switch water sources in the first place would only save the city about $5 million. That estimate does not include the nearly $400 million lost to the city in social costs, since so many children will suffer for the rest of their lives due to lead exposure.
Despite public belief about rolling back environmental protections in order to boost the economy, the enormous economic benefits of environmental regulations and sustainable technology are rarely discussed. Renewable energy, for example, creates jobs and also utilizes resources already found in the United States. This boosts the economy by bringing in revenue rather than relying on fuel imports. Regardless of these positives, society is not willing to uproot their livelihood to make changes, even if those changes are for the good of everyone involved. Overall, the price of sustainability may seem high at first glance but will always be worth it in the end when the environment is protected, human health is promoted, and the economy is thriving.