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Studies by Harvard Chan School researchers found that carbon pricing—where polluters pay a fee on the carbon they produce—can save lives and prevent disease.

 

 Why it matters: Air pollution from fossil fuels can have major effects on human health. It can cause early death, heart attacks, hospitalizations for respiratory disorders, stroke, asthma attacks, and absenteeism from school and work.

Recent studies have suggested that it may even contribute to autism spectrum disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. Research at the Harvard Chan School showed that adding a price to human-made carbon emissions could reduce the use of fossil fuels, and improve public health in Massachusetts and other states.

The background: In one study, researchers simulated what would happen to public and environmental health in Massachusetts if a carbon pricing policy were enacted. The scenario assigned a fee to fossil fuels in transport, residential and commercial buildings, and in 33 industries across Massachusetts.

  • The study found that by 2040, putting a carbon pricing policy in action would reduce carbon emissions by 33 million metric tons, which in turn would reduce harmful byproducts of combustion like nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • The policy was estimated to save 340 lives statewide. It also found that it would save the state nearly three billion dollars in medical-related costs.

The Upshot: Without firm climate change policies from the federal government, state and regional actions can make a difference in reducing pollution. Studies showing how policies like carbon pricing can save both money and lives give health-based evidence for actions that slow climate change around the U.S. and the world.

Resources:

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Gina McCarthy

Gina McCarthy

A leading advocate for smart, successful strategies to protect public health and the environment for more than 30 years.

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Jonathan Buonocore Sc.D

Jonathan focuses on the health, environmental, and climate impacts of energy, and the benefits of reducing carbon emissions—commonly called “health co-benefits.”

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Drew Michanowicz DrPH, CPH

Drew’s research interests are related to poorly understood and emerging environmental hazards on both global- and community-level scales.

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Kathy Fallon Lambert

Kathy examines how big data and models can be used to quantify the health and environment benefits of actions to mitigate climate change.

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