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Care about global climate change? Then fight local air pollution

Leaders of developing countries should take a look at a new study by professors and researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago, and keep it in mind when they go to Paris to discuss a global climate agreement this December. According to the study, published in the journal Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), “India’s population is exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution.” Based on ground-level measurements and satellite data, the paper estimates that 660 million Indians live in areas exceeding the Indian government’s air quality standard for fine particulate pollution. The causes are the same as they are everywhere: cars, industrial activity, and electricity generation. Coal is India’s primary source of power, accounting for more than half of its energy portfolio. Car ownership is rapidly becoming more widespread, and Indian cars often run on diesel, which generates more particulate pollution than gasoline. While diesel emits less carbon, it may cause just as much global warming because the soot it creates is also a contributor to climate change. It’s not new news that India’s air pollution is terrible. The 2014 Yale Environmental Performance Index found India had the fifth worst air pollution out of 178 countries, and the World Health Organization ranked 13 Indian cities among the 20 in the world with the worst fine particulate air pollution. As The New York Times noted in a 2014 editorial, “According to India’s Central Pollution Control Board, in 2010, particulate matter in the air of 180 Indian cities was six times higher than World Health Organization standards.” Here’s why this matters for climate change: The dirty fuels that cause particulate pollution are the same dirty fuels that cause global warming. Cracking down on local air pollution will not only save lives, it will shift the economics of energy toward cleaner sources that produce less carbon. The willingness of India and other populous developing countries such as China, Brazil, and Indonesia to adopt such policies may determine the fate of the Earth. via Grist.

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