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Now many lives does a wind turbine save?

  1. Aug 14, 2008 #1
    i know climate science is pretty inaccurate at the moment and its difficult to predict the effects of lowering carbon emissions but just as an interesting topic i was wondering roughly how many lives each wind turbine will save?

    what i mean is how much carbon dioxide will be saved from the atmosphere and how many lives would have been lost by a result of that carbon dioxide being there and melting population sustaining glaciers and stuff.

    i was thinking about this after reading an article about a new runway at Heathrow airport in London. the decision to build a new runway was based on the money it would bring into the country weighed up against the 'value' of the lives lost as a result of the carbon emissions of the extra planes.

    (please try not to get off topic. if you want to discuss other aspects of climate change please find an appropriate thread or start a new one. also fyi, yes, the government do assign a value to peoples lives as a method of weighing up where money is best spent to save as many lives as possible because you cant save everyone, so please avoid discussing the morals of this or we could end up way off the topic!)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2008 #2
    You could also take into consideration the loss of life contributed by the more dangerous fuel procurement methods employed by today's oil tycoons and other methods of energy attainment.

    Assigning a 'value' to human life is not an uncommon practice in today's economic society. "How safe" a designer wants the engineer to set his product up to be is very carefully weighted along the number of projected lawsuits from misuse and wear/tear versus the cost of adding further redundancy ($$) to a given system. That's where morality comes in. Of course ideally we would always value human life beyond any form of profit, but this just isn't the case in our world's markets today, sadly.

    Regardless--estimating the loss of life due to an increase in global warming is an incredibly imprecise way of looking at things. We're all aware of the consequences of a warmer Earth at the way things are going, I'm sure. Even without global warming brought into consideration, I've yet to find a *good* counterargument to having a cleaner world to live on with a more sustainable and predictable energy source, producing more jobs in a less hazardous work environment.
  4. Aug 14, 2008 #3


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    It's tricky to do for CO2 since the CO2->climate change->health effects is a little difficult to quantify in terms of lives.
    There are official figures for the number of deaths due to pollution (30,000/year in the US due to coal power rings a bell) and as Cvan said there are official values for how much a life is worth when considering things like road safety improvements.

    What is less clear, but possibly off-topic, is wether large scale wind turbines do reduce CO2 emmission given the need for gas fired stations to load balance. A recent EU study suggested that they would overall increase CO2 production because of the bursty nature of the wind power production and the effect this has on grid planning.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2008
  5. Aug 14, 2008 #4


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    Or, does it cost lives? Every wind turbine offsets diversion of agricultural productivity to production of ethanol, and helps keep food costs down to a level maintaining the incidence of morbid obesity.

    If you buy into the IPCC scenario, and want to start making arguments about contributions to mortality rates, you've got another set of untestable assumptions to make. Pull a number from the air and go with it; use the runway number for mortality per emission unit, or put your efforts into something useful.
  6. Aug 14, 2008 #5


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    I don't think that there is any good indication that CO2 kills people. CO2 is non-toxic in atmospheric concentrations, there are many more potent greenhouse gasses (e.g. methane), and even AGW isn't necessarily detrimental to human populations.

    I think your most reasonable approach is to talk about the number of deaths of coal miners, oil rig workers, etc. I am sure the wind turbine industry is not immune from such industrial accidents, but they are probably rare. You could also look into increased risk of cancer from coal-fired power plants. That is a small risk, but potentially a large exposed population.
  7. Aug 14, 2008 #6


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    Correct: that 30,000 figure is not from the CO2, but from the other pollutants in the exhaust.
  8. Aug 18, 2008 #7
    Please site the study, (I am interested not necessarily skeptical). It is interesting to know that the US EPA has recently lowered the value of human life. Stephen Colbert had a funny bit on this the other night.

    Most pollutant are NO, NO2, SO2, and Hg. Compared to pulverized coal combustion, wind turbines are probably cleaner even if they need natural gas turbine backup.
  9. Aug 18, 2008 #8
    ExternE is a nice study of the external effects of electricity generation.
    The give the results in costs, but you can dig through the study to find the loss of life per produced kWh for the different energy sources.
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