Opinion: Carbon capture does not address health impacts of fossil fuels

June 30, 2023 – One method of fighting climate change is to capture carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels at industrial facilities. But this method doesn’t address the health-harming air pollution produced throughout the oil and gas production process, according to Kari Nadeau, John Rock Professor of Climate and Population Studies and chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

World leaders and corporations view carbon capture—a technology that converts carbon dioxide emissions into a form that can be stored underground—as an important way to reduce greenhouse gases. “While they may be right, it’s important not to forget the upfront health costs,” wrote Nadeau in a June 1 opinion article in the Boston Globe, co-authored with Gina McCarthy, the former White House national climate advisor and Environmental Protection Agency administrator. “At every step of the supply chain, fossil fuels expose people to pollution that harms their health and wellbeing, resulting in illness and death that cannot be abated by capturing carbon emissions at the stack and putting them back in the ground.”

They added, “Yes, we all want to save the planet, but let’s not forget to protect the people too.  There are many health reasons—beyond climate change—that should motivate us to stop our reliance on fossil fuels, not just capture their emissions, as quickly as possible.”

Air pollutants are created throughout the oil and gas production process, from coal dust in mines to gas from leaking pipelines. Air pollution has been shown to increase the risk of a range of health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease; cancer; heart, kidney, and lung disease; and many other conditions.

“Fossil fuels are yesterday’s game,” the authors wrote. “At every level, we need to push for creative solutions that end our reliance on fossil fuels sooner rather than later.”

Read the opinion article in the Boston Globe: Carbon capture isn’t the climate change health benefit the world needs