Slashing greenhouse gas emissions could save millions of lives

Simulations suggest reduced air pollution would improve public health

Shanghai smog
LESS POLLUTION, LONGER LIVES Simulations show reducing smog and other pollution in Shanghai (shown) and other cities may save lives in the long run.


Cutting greenhouse gas emissions should improve air quality and thereby save millions of people’s lives by the end of the century, new simulations find.

Burning fossil fuels emits both climate-warming gases and other air pollutants such as particulate matter. Greenhouse gases also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. Because particulate matter and ozone can cause heart and lung disease, researchers think that reducing greenhouse gases would improve public health.

J. Jason West of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues simulated climate and air quality through 2100. In a simulation with reductions in fossil fuel use, the model found 2.2 million premature deaths per year could be avoided by the beginning of the next century, compared with a simulation without climate change mitigation.

The greenhouse gas cuts also make economic sense, the researchers say. The benefit of reducing pollution-related deaths, compared with the costs of mitigation, equals $50 to $380 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, the team reports September 22 in Nature Climate Change.

Erin Wayman is the managing editor for print and longform content at Science News. She has a master’s degree in biological anthropology from the University of California, Davis and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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