Life Expectancy and Quality of Life
The health of a country is often judged by life expectancy. How does the USA compare to comparable countries?
Life expectancy at birth in years, 2017
Japan 84.2 Switzerland 83.6 Australia 82.6 France 82.6 Sweden 82.5 Comparable Country Average 82.38 Canada 82.0 Netherlands 81.8 Austria 81.7 Belgium 81.6 United Kingdom 81.3 Germany 81.1 United States 78.6 (Ranks 37th among all countries and has been declining for the past five years)
What we do know is that for many people life expectancy is not as important as Quality life expectancy. What good is it to live to be 90 if the last 20 years are life without joy? HALE, or healthy life expectancy is a much better measure. What this means is the number of years we expect to lead a life with full mobility and free of pain without prescription life support. Using this criteria life expectancy in our country is only 66! Why is it so low? There are several; factors. Obesity rates, quality of healthcare (the USA only ranks 37th (same as life expectancy), immune system maintenance among others.
Coal Mining, Coal as an Energy Source and the Environment
Coal mining is an important industry and is especially significant to the economy of West Virginia, both in terms of GDP and employment. Unlike gas and oil there are enough coal reserves to last at least 100 years, assuming current population growth rates. That’s the good news.
The issues in the short term are relatively low pay for the health hazards and working conditions. Below ground coal miners earn an average of $19 per hour. Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung disease or black lung, is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. It is common in coal miners and others who work with coal. It is similar to both silicosis from inhaling silica dust and asbestos dust.
Deforestation and Erosion: As part of the process of clearing the way for a coal mine, trees are cut down or burned, plants uprooted and the topsoil scraped away. This results in the destruction of the land (it can no longer be used for planting crops) and soil erosion.
Even more important is the impact that burning coal for power production has on the environment. Burning coal releases toxins. Coal contains sulfur and other elements, including dangerous metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic, that escape into the air when coal is burned. Burning coal also produces particulates that increase air pollution and health dangers.
Burning coal emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Coal is composed almost entirely of carbon, so burning coal unleashes large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. These emissions have been shown to increase the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere and lead to global warming.
Because coal is so abundant and relatively inexpensive, many people are reluctant to give it up as a fuel source. Luckily, ways to use coal more sustainably and minimize its environmental damage are available. Clean coal solutions include the following:
- Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC): IGCC technology converts coal into gas, removing sulfur and metals. This gas generates electricity by fueling turbines while the side products (sulfur and metals) are concentrated and sold. IGCC plants are cleaner and more efficient than coal-burning electric plants and have the potential to capture CO2 emissions in the future.
- Carbon sequestration: One of the biggest problems with burning coal is the amount of CO2 it adds to the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration includes various ways to capture and store carbon underground instead of allowing it to fill the atmosphere. Currently, some coal-burning plants store carbon in underground abandoned mines or in oil wells. Other plants pump the carbon into sedimentary rocks or below the ocean floor.
Our Fragile Earth – Think about it
I have a concern about our short-term thinking. The stock market moves up or down based on the news and/or psychology of the day. Publicly traded companies focus on quarterly results. Politicians focus on elections every two years. As a Homo Sapiens we have only been around for about 200,000 years (or about 6,500 years if you are a Creationist).
Mother Earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years and some form of life has existed for about 3.5 billion years. The Dinosaurs showed up about 250 million years ago and ruled for almost 200 million years. The Egyptians ruled for over 2,700 years and the Roman Empire took over for the next 500.
Our country has existed for less than 250 years and has only been a world leader for about 75 years. In the last 60 years the world population has doubled!
The land that we occupy is only about 1/3 of the surface of the Earth. The earth’s crust (that we depend on for life) is only about 18 miles thick below land. The remainder is mostly ocean that has an average depth of about 2 ½ miles. The crust below it only aveages about 5 miles. Think about these measurements in terms of the size of the earth which has a diameter of 4,000 miles.
What about the atmosphere that we require to breath? Healthy people can survive to 10,000 feet. Above that, most people need oxygen. From 12,00 feet to 50,000 feet oxygen and a pressure suit or a pressurized container is required. Above 50,000 feet a fully sealed suit or a space suit is needed.
To summarize these facts: We live on an extremely thin outer crust of the planet and rely of an extremely thin band of air to stay alive. As a species we have been around for less than .006% of the time since life emerged. Home Sapiens took the first 199,940 years to provide a population of 3.6 biiion and only 60 years to add another 3.6 billion. Do you see a problem here?