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Clean Energy Produces Billions in Health Benefits, Study Finds

Renewable Energy
Clean Energy Produces Billions in Health Benefits, Study Finds
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.


In fact, 10 states across the Midwest could see massive savings. Ohio stands to gain $4.7 billion in health benefits by 2030 if they stick with their current renewable energy standards. The research shows that as states make their demands for renewalble energy more stringent, the health benefits and cost savings increase.

Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the the University of California, Santa Barbara was not involved in the study, but said the paper makes a link between economics and atmospheric conditions "that allows for a much richer understanding of how energy decisions affect public health," as Axios reported. "The targets that they are shooting for in this paper are not overly ambitious. They are showing that even doing these piecemeal things would be an improvement for the Rust Belt."

The study shows the power individual states have when faced with the Trump administration's rollbacks of the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations. States can take control of the regulations by setting renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which require electricity suppliers to source a designated percentage of electricity from renewable sources. Yet, in some states like Ohio, the governor has followed Trump's lead and weakened the state's renewable energy requirement, as E&E News reported last week.

When the Ohio state legislature took up the bill, which proposed to repeal the state's RPS, the study's lead author, Emil Dimanchev shared these results on the Senate floor. According to the research team's best estimates, an average of 50 premature deaths per year will be avoided as a result of Ohio's RPS in 2030. This translates to an economic benefit of $470 million per year. With costs of the RPS estimated at $300 million per year, it translates to an annual net health benefit of $170 million in 2030, according to an MIT statement published on Phys.org.

"According to our calculations, the magnitude of the air quality benefits resulting from Ohio's RPS is substantial and exceeds its economic costs," he argued, as an MIT press release said. "While the state legislature ultimately weakened the RPS, our research concludes that this will worsen the health of Ohio residents."

Green energy helps mitigate the climate crisis and reduces air pollution, which can contribute to emphysema and other lung deficiencies, Ecowatch reported.

The new peer-reviewed study by scientists at MIT and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters quantified the regional effects of generating renewable energy that reduce fine particles in the air by replacing coal-fired energy.

The researchers created an economic and air pollution model to compare costs and benefits of renewable portfolio standards Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware—a region that tends to have poorer air quality and a reliance on coal, according to the Verge.

"This research helps us better understand how clean-energy policies now under consideration at the subnational level might impact local air quality and economic growth," said Dimanchev in a statement.

By improving air quality, states will save money in reduced productivity, lost income and outsized medical bills to deal with the host of adverse cardiovascular and respiratory ailments associated with air pollution. The research team found extensive cost savings by sticking to existent RPS, but the benefits skyrocketed when states increased their renewable energy standards and added carbon pricing to the mix.

"This research shows that renewables pay for themselves through health benefits alone," said Dimanchev to the Verge.


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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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