A huge side benefit of the new climate law
The climate and tax bill, which is expected to pass Friday afternoon, has a huge benefit that you may not have thought of: It will go a long way in improving health in the United States.
The package, America’s first major climate bill, is an important step in the fight against global warming. But even if all countries take swift, decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will take some time for global temperatures to stabilize.
The health benefit of the measure, on the other hand, should be much more immediate. Today I will explain the different benefits and why they matter.
Fewer Premature Deaths
Burning fossil fuels releases dangerous air pollutants, such as particulate matter known as PM 2.5, which can penetrate deep into our lungs and even enter our bloodstream.
Named because each particle is smaller than 2.5 micrometers, this microscopic contamination has been shown to worsen asthma and other lung diseases and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. It has also been linked to developmental problems in children.
Fossil fuel pollution also contains other nasty things, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. All very unhealthy.
The climate and tax package will cause a sharp drop in these pollutants by helping the United States clean up its energy networks faster.
Analysts haven’t had much time to gauge exactly how the new law would affect health, but the research we have points to significant gains.
To give just one example, according to an analysis led by John Larsen, a partner at the consultancy Rhodium Group, the new law will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 82 percent to below 2021 levels by 2030. America’s air was already getting cleaner. , but that is a big improvement compared to the current trajectory. Without the new measure, sulfur dioxide is expected to decrease by up to 63 percent.
In another analysis, published last weekThe Energy Innovation research group estimated that closing coal-fired power plants in the United States and cutting methane emissions would deliver public health benefits as early as next year and ultimately prevent up to 3,900 deaths by 2030.
Broadly speaking, experts say the law will prevent heart attacks, reduce emergency room visits for people with respiratory problems and reduce hospitalizations for people with cardiovascular disease.
The benefits of the law can be felt especially by communities of color, who are often located near major sources of pollution, such as busy roads, industrial sites and power plants. As my colleagues Hiroko Tabuchi and Nadja Popovich wrote last year, Black Americans are exposed to higher concentrations of PM2.5 from all sources.
These communities sometimes fall through the cracks of air quality monitoring networks in the United States. Those systems are among the best in the world, but more detailed data can make a huge difference, said Christa Hasenkopf, who leads air quality programs at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.
She explained to me that a city may have multiple air quality monitors reporting an average level of pollution that is not harmful, but the system can still miss the few blocks where the levels are extremely high.
Climate and tax law provides $281 million to government agencies to improve air quality monitoring, and there are other measures to promote environmental justice. It will invest billions in community-led projects, zero-emission buses, and programs to improve air quality in schools in low-income communities, to name a few.
A report of the REPEAT project at Princeton University shows that the law is spending at least $60 billion on projects that help protect communities overburdened with environmental problems.
The possible health effects of those facilities have not yet been modeled by researchers. Robbie Orvis, senior director at Energy Innovation, told me the results will depend on how these measures are implemented and, most importantly, how states spend the money.
“There is certainly some uncertainty about where the money will flow and which communities will benefit,” he said. The work of estimating the effects of the law “isn’t done yet.”
Building global momentum
Raising U.S. ambition to tackle global warming could also help boost renewable energy investment in other countries, Hasenkopf said. That would be a major step forward in tackling air pollution at a global level.
“Outdoor air pollution, especially PM 2.5 pollution, shortens the average human lifespan on the planet more than road accidents, HIV-AIDS, malaria and war combined,” she said.
A recent study in The Lancet According to estimates, more than 6.5 million people worldwide die each year from air pollution, and fossil fuel emissions are a primary cause. And more than 90 percent of deaths from pollution occur in low- and middle-income countries.
In India, air pollution is estimated to shave an average of five years off people’s lives. Americans lose an average of about two months.
But the invisibility of air pollution makes the problem difficult to tackle, Hasenkopf said. According to a recent review she helped coordinateonly 0.1 percent of the subsidies per year by philanthropic groups are focused on air quality.
“It’s a huge burden on our public health worldwide,” she said. “But it really flies under the radar. It has been neglected.”
Related: How clean is the air you breathe compared to other major cities in the world? You can find out here.
Essential news from The Times
Green mission, dirty partners: A United Nations sustainable development agency has been working with energy companies to keep oil flowing, including in the Amazon.
Before You Go: The Oil Money Funding Climate Protests
The heirs to two US oil fortunes support groups trying to block fossil fuel projects. Protesters from the organizations have chained themselves to benches, rushed to a Grand Prix circuit and tied themselves to goal posts as tens of thousands of British football fans cheered. Why? One donor said she was concerned about the possibility of human extinction. Another called it a “moral obligation.”
Correction: Due to an editorial error, Tuesday’s newsletter misrepresented the year of the presidential election in which Jimmy Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan. It was 1980, not 1979.
Thank you for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday.
Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.
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