As U.S. politicians continue to debate whether to save the declining American coal industry, new peer-reviewed research is making a case for letting it die. A new analysis from Michigan Technological University, published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, asserts that swapping out all U.S. coal energy for solar-powered energy could save approximately 52,000 lives every year. That’s more people than work in the American coal industry today: 51,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The research is particularly relevant given Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Trump said he decided to exit the agreement “in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens.” Ostensibly, however, Trump was only talking about those 51,000 coal miners whose jobs might be negatively impacted by a country-wide shift to renewable energy. He was not talking about his concern for public health, which multiple studies have shown is negatively impacted by climate change and other pollution from fossil fuels.
It’s worth noting that this new research only analyzes the health benefits of replacing all U.S. coal-powered electricity with solar-powered electricity. Merely eliminating coal and replacing it with, say, natural gas would not save the same number of lives. Fortunately, while coal is inevitably dying, the U.S. solar industry is booming—and at least one study has asserted it would be fairly cheap to retrain coal workers to work in the solar industry. Embracing that shift, however, does not appear to be on the Trump administration’s agenda.