Cleaning Our Air Can Save Millions of Lives, Trillions of Dollars

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Thanks to the pandemic we’ve all gotten a taste of cleaner air, and we all want that to continue. Clean air isn’t just good for better views of the horizon and a more pleasant place it to live, it’s also good for global health and for government coffers. Yes, governments can save money if we pollute less (despite Chevron’s best efforts).

Importantly, many of the benefits can be accessed in the near term. Right now, air pollution leads to almost 250,000 premature deaths a year in the US. Within a decade, aggressive decarbonization could reduce that toll by 40 percent; over 20 years, it could save around 1.4 million American lives that would otherwise be lost to air quality.

Of the potential yearly deaths prevented, Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois remarked at the hearing, “That’s a huge number. That’s nearly three times the number of lives we lose in car accidents every year. It’s twice the number of deaths caused by opioids in the past few years. And it’s even more than the number of Americans we lose to diabetes each year.”

If the numbers are shocking, it’s because the science has been developing rapidly. First, says Shindell, “there’s been a huge upsurge in work in developing countries, in particular China,” which has produced larger data sets and a wider, fuller picture of the real-world effects of exposure.

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