Air Quality

One of the goals of the Green New Deal is to provide clean air to all Americans.

Here is a picture of what air quality in America looks like on April 27, 2019:


https://aqicn.org/map/northamerica/

Green is good, yellow bad, red worse and purple just horrible. The picture changes from day to day, of course, but it’s clear that most Americans do enjoy clean air on most days of the year. But as with water pollution (and almost everything else that is bad in our land), air pollution is tougher on the poor and minorities. Not only are they exposed to more of it, they have fewer resources to deal with it.

The EPA writes, “Nationally, concentrations of air pollutants have dropped significantly since 1990:

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) 8-Hour,  77%
  • Lead (Pb) 3-Month Average,  80%
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Annual,  56%
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) 1-Hour,  50%
  • Ozone (O3) 8-Hour,  22%
  • Particulate Matter 10 microns (PM10) 24-Hour,  34%
  • Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) Annual,  41%
  • Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) 24-Hour,  40%
  • Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) 1-Hour,  88%
  • Numerous air toxics have declined with percentages varying by pollutant”

The EPA gets about $8.8 billion a year of taxpayer funding, about 0.2% of all federal spending. About 12% of that, or $1 billion, goes to improve air quality. The costs of air pollution far exceed that, as air pollution is a direct contributor to things ranging from asthma to premature births. Estimates of the costs of air pollution are very high–and it’s important to note that, because of differing contributing factors to things like asthma and premature births–it’s difficult to put an exact dollar figure on it. But the Washington Post reported on a study done in 2016 of the costs of air pollution in 2011, and came up with a staggering total of $131 billion, which in fact was a marked improvement on prior years.

But the American Lung Association says things are not so rosy, saying that “Almost half of the U.S. population lives in areas where air pollution levels are often dangerously high for them to breathe, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association.

The group’s annual “State of the Air” report finds 47 percent of Americans live in counties with frequently unhealthy levels of either ozone or particulate pollution. That’s up from 42 percent in last year’s report.

The five communities with the worst air pollution were all in California. Los Angeles-Long Beach topped the list with the highest ozone levels, while Fresno-Madera was found to have the most particle pollution.”

Some air pollution comes from natural causes–volcanoes, wildfires, dust storms, etc. But as Phys.org writes, “But by far the greatest contributing to air pollution today are those that are a result of human impact – i.e. man-made causes. These are largely the result of human reliance on fossil fuels and heavy industry, but can also be due to the accumulation of waste, modern agriculture, and other man-made processes. “

What can we do to reduce air pollution? The answers will seem familiar to anyone who has been following discussions about climate change–after all, CO2 for climate purposes is just another pollutant, along with methane and CFCs. If we quit doing the things that produce the pollutants, pollution will continue to diminish.

While the bulk of the burden would fall on heavy industry and big agricultural companies, a lot of air pollution comes from us and there’s a lot we can do to reduce it.

Again, buying an electric vehicle, replacing your lights with LEDs and using Energy Star appliances are very important ways. SF Gate also has some recommendations:

“Save energy around the house. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saving energy can reduce carbon emissions. Because most energy sources require burning fossil fuels, the less energy you use, the greener you are. Set your appliances and lights on a timer to turn off after a certain period of inactivity. Use compact fluorescent bulbs instead of standard lightbulbs, and use your microwave instead of the oven to heat small items.

2

Manage your heating and cooling. Turn your thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer whenever you are at work, sleeping or on vacation. You can also turn your water heater down to 120 degrees to save power. Make sure your insulation is up to the recommended level for your area, and insulate pipes that pass through unheated spaces. Check to see that your windows and doors are not leaking warm or cool air. To make sure your furnace and air conditioners are running efficiently, perform regular maintenance. (See References 3)

3

Cut back on the amount of packaging you purchase and the amount of household waste you produce. The process of manufacturing packaging releases harmful emissions into the atmosphere, so patronize brands that use as little packaging as possible. Recycle everything you can: aluminum, paper, glass, plastic and cardboard are usually easy to recycle. When you are disposing of chemical-based substances like paint, batteries, pesticides or solvents, check with your local waste management office for a safe, eco-friendly method. (See References 3)

4

Reduce the amount of time you spend in the car. Carpool or use public transportation whenever you can. For shorter distances, walk or ride your bike to do errands. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, changing to carpooling can save a person over $1,000 per year. If you avoid driving alone only one day every week for a year, you can save hundreds of dollars in expenses, not to mention the wear and tear on your car. When you must drive, refill your gas tank during colder times of the day and avoid spilling gas to prevent evaporation into the atmosphere. (See References 2)

5

Improve your fuel economy. According to the EPA, a 1 percent increase in fuel economy equals a 1 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions (see References 1). Avoid accelerating quickly, braking hard and driving at high speeds, particularly when in heavy traffic. Remove excess weight from your car and remove unused roof racks or bike carriers, which cause drag.

To close this off, the Green New Deal could easily address air pollution by increasing funding to that part of the EPA that seeks to improve air quality. If funding is really a paltry $1 billion annually, and if that $1 billion has actually contributed to the very real improvement of air quality since the 1970s, additional funding might make very short work of this. If the EPA’s efforts were aided by individual and corporate efforts, we really could have clean air for all.

Green New Deal Recommendation: The EPA spends a lot of its budget by giving it away to cities and states as grants to do specific things. This is one case where a significant budget increase could actually not be just throwing money away. If there are more ‘shovel ready’ projects waiting to be funded to reduce pollution and improve air quality, a larger budget of grant money could make this one of the easier GND commitments to fulfill.

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