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Recent studies have put striking figures on the number of premature deaths and illnesses associated with pollution; one found that air pollution is responsible for two million premature deaths each year, while another found it to be the source of 200,000 premature deaths each year in the US alone. Air pollution has also been linked to low birth weight and of course a raft of other health concerns such as respiratory illness, heart and kidney disease and lung cancer. Now a new study, published this week in Nature Climate Change, has made startling projections for future global premature deaths as a result of particulate and ozone pollution associated with carbon emissions.
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The study, by Jason West of UNC, and colleagues at NOAA and the EPA, to name a few, makes a strong case for the health benefits—and associated economic benefits—of dramatic cuts in carbon emissions. While the study echoes the calls of many others for air pollution to be addressed on health grounds, it differs significantly in its approach. The researchers looked not just at the near-term and local effects of emissions and their co-pollutants (as previous studies have), but at “long-term changes in human populations [and] the indirect effects of climate change on air quality,” explained West to Live Science.
The results of these models found that by 2030, dramatic cuts in carbon emissions could prevent 300,000-700,000 premature deaths a year, escalating to 800,000 — 1.8 million in 2050 and 1.4 million to 3 million in 2100. The monetized co-benefits of a healthier population stand at a worldwide average of $50-380 per ton of CO2, adjusted to $30-600 for the U.S. and Western Europe, $70-840 for China and $20-400 for India. The sum of these co-benefits is, the study finds, greater than the cost of cutting carbon emissions.
So how do cuts in carbon emissions relate directly to air pollution? While it might seem inevitable, the burning of fuel doesn’t just release carbon, it releases a raft of other substances that are have negative health implications. These co-emitted air pollutants, particularly ozone and particulate matter, are recognized in the raft of studies listed above and many, many others, to be a substantial cause of illnesses around the globe, including those that lead to premature death. When we cut carbon emissions, we reduce the number of co-emissions and quite simply: lives are saved.
Via Think Progress