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Emissions and Human Health; We Know Better, Time to Do Better

Cornelia Poku
Cornelia Poku
May 28, 2020

Ever hear the saying, “Tidy room, tidy mind?” It’s common sense lore reiterating that we are inextricably linked to our environments. The concept applies even when the stakes are higher than a pile of laundry.

If countless studies have shown that environments affected by lead, asbestos, and mold lead to poor health, how do we neglect that same common-sense concept when it comes to emissions? Is it easier to ignore because we need cars more than paint?

A study in Nature Energy revealed that when four coal plants in Kentucky restricted and reduced emissions, the surrounding communities could literally breathe better. There was a drop in asthma-related hospitalizations and a marked decrease in how often people needed to use their inhalers.

The study was not orchestrated, the Louisville area coal plants happened to be making changes and the researchers spotted an opportunity.

One of the lead researchers, Joan Casey, pointed out to the Courier Journal that opportunities to study how air pollution affects human health are pretty rare. 

Coronavirus presented another of these rare opportunities.

National Climate Change Journal recently released a study revealing that in March and April, carbon emissions dropped by more than 1 billion tons!

With so many businesses closed and cars off the roads, the air quality quickly changed, and it seems everyone took notice.

Researchers at Harvard University found that a “small increase in long-term exposure to [fine particulate matter] leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate.”

The evidence is overwhelming. So much so that the oil industry seems to be nervous.

Maybe increased emissions for growth and productivity was a trade-off that made sense at the beginning of the industrial revolution, but times have changed, and we have too many solutions to continue looking the other way.

Biotechnology has made it possible to create transportation fuels with little to no carbon footprint using natural sources like algae, soybeans, or even rice straw. Options like electricity, natural gas, and renewable energy have made it possible to power buildings with a significantly decreased impact on the atmosphere.

There are fewer and fewer excuses.  

Some states are taking small steps. California and Oregon have adopted low carbon fuel standards. Minnesota, Iowa, and Maine have renewable chemical tax credits. But there is still a long way to go.

We know better, so we must do better—for the life span of ourselves and our planet.