Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The cost of cold weather and the value of human life

The Dominion-Post has a followup-story on its weekend feature on the cost of cold weather, pointing out that the government spends twenty times as much on road safety as on insulating housing - despite winter illnesses exacerbated by substandard housing killing five times as many people as car accidents. It turns out the total insulation budget is higher than I thought - $5.4 million from EECA, and a $4 million scheme to upgrade state houses - but its still next to nothing compared to the scale of the problem. And this is shown by the modesty of its goals; EECA that there are 350,000 homes which lack ceiling insulation, and plans to upgrade a third of them - by 2016. But given that the amount of money involved is peanuts on a government scale (and it is; a $5 million program is chump change), that demand for subsidised upgrades massively outstrips supply, and the significant cost in human life, why not triple the funding and get them all done? It would result in significant savings in the health budget (other research points out that people in insulated homes go to hospital less often and take less days off work), as well as providing significant energy savings. And the latter makes it arguably exactly the sort of "bold goal" the government is looking for for its climate change policy...

This also allows us to calculate the value the government puts on a human life lost to cold weather: $5875 dollars. Whereas a life lost on the roads is valued at $620,000 - more than a hundred times as high. It will be interesting to hear the justification for this difference.

Finally, the article talks about the Sustainability Trust, which installs insulation in low-income homes in Porirua for $300. If you're wondering about similar services in your area, Dave Crampton has posted a helpful list here.


Just to out myself (anonymously) as a cold heartless bastard.

Surely its the sickly old people who are dying of cold? and if they weren't dying of cold now, then they'd soon be dying of something else.

So the benifets of saving people who aren't doomed anyway, surely has to be factored into it somehow. I would think 150 times is a little extreme, but I don't think its unusual that they spend more stopping traffic accidents.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/11/2006 07:25:00 PM

There will be a fair number of the very old but the very young are also susceptable to keeling over from respitory infections and other illnessess in cold damp houses (and living in Invercargill I know exactly how they feel).

Posted by Michael : 7/11/2006 07:35:00 PM

And quite apart from that - these illnesses cost the health system rather a lot of money, to the extent that they admit its economic to insulate houses to prevent them. The problem is that we don't quite seem to be doing enough of it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/11/2006 11:45:00 PM