In The News
By David Roberts
In the late 1960s, the US saw regular, choking smog descend over New York City and Los Angeles, 100,000 barrels of oil spilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and, perhaps most famously, fires burning on the surface of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. These grim images sparked the modern environmental movement, the first Earth Day, and a decade of extraordinary environmental lawmaking and rulemaking (much of it under a Republican president, Richard Nixon).
From the ’70s through the beginning of the 21st century, the fight against fossil fuels was a fight about pollution, especially air pollution.
In the ensuing decades, the focus has shifted to global warming, and fossil fuels have largely been reframed as a climate problem. And that makes sense, given the enormous implications of climate change for long-term human well-being.
But there’s an irony involved: The air pollution case against fossil fuels is still the best case!
In fact, even as attention has shifted to climate change, the air pollution case has grown stronger and stronger, as the science on air pollution has advanced by leaps and bounds. Researchers are now much more able to pinpoint air pollution’s direct and indirect effects, and the news has been uniformly bad.
The evidence is now clear enough that it can be stated unequivocally: It would be worth freeing ourselves from fossil fuels even if global warming didn’t exist. Especially now that clean energy has gotten so cheap, the air quality benefits alone are enough to pay for the energy transition.
This conclusion has been reaffirmed by the latest air quality research, presented at a recent hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform by Drew Shindell, Nicholas professor of earth science at Duke University (and a lead author on both recent IPCC reports).
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