Skip to main content

ALERT: KPBS 89.5FM is undergoing scheduled upgrade work which may result in a temporary signal outage. Click here to listen on our radio stream.

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

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.

RELATED: New Research Finds Climate Models Mostly Get It Right

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.

RELATED: Climate Advocates Push San Diego’s Sempra Energy For Change

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.

RELATED: San Diego Freeway Traffic Nears Pre-Pandemic Levels

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.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

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.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.