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Study: Air Pollution Reduction Could Help Reduce Global Warming

The orange haze covering the San Diego skyline on Sept. 15, 2020, because of ...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: The orange haze covering the San Diego skyline on Sept. 15, 2020, because of smoke from wildfires across California, including the Valley Fire in rural East County.

New research out of San Diego suggests it may make sense to control air pollution as part of a greenhouse gas reduction plan.

Reducing both could save millions of lives.

Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

The push to cut back greenhouse gas emissions may end up having an added benefit if climate-friendly strategies also lead to a reduction in air pollution.

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Pascal Polonik, a PHD student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, found cutting coal or diesel emissions to meet Paris Climate Accord greenhouse gas emission targets have an added benefit.

It could also slow the planet’s warming temperatures and reduce exposure to dangerous airborne particulates. Both of those things could save lives.

“As humans emit greenhouse gasses they’re also emitting other stuff like particulate matter which has negative consequences for human health,” Polonick said.

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Black carbon particulates that are bad for human health also accelerate the planet’s warming.

The study Polonick authored looked a several emission reduction strategies: across the board emission cuts, cutting the most polluting industries first and cutting emissions from industries that released the compounds that impact global warming.

The traditional approach is to look at pollution and greenhouse gas emissions separately.

“Greenhouse gasses are for climate change and particulate matter is for air pollution but really they’re emitted by some of the same processes so in some ways we think it makes sense to consider them at the same time,” Polonick said.

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The study finds different solutions may be needed for different regions.

“Implementing cuts equally and making each industry do their fair share may be the easiest way to implement climate policy in a democratic society like the U.S. where there are many competing political interests,” said co-author Kate Ricke, assistant professor with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the School of Global Policy and Strategy. “However, there are real benefits to being thoughtful about how aerosols factor into climate policy outcomes. There may be big benefits to cutting emissions from certain sectors first.”

The research finds that air pollution control and global warming emission reduction plans could work together to help lower the risk to human health.

The findings are published in the current edition of the journal Earth’s Future.


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Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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