Power plants that burn coal and other fossil fuels emit not only planet-warming carbon dioxide, but also pollutants linked to breathing problems and premature death.
Policies proposed to mitigate climate change, however, often fail to fully account for the health benefit of switching to cleaner technologies. In a new study published in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, researchers show that emphasizing health concerns in such policies can alter the optimal locations of these upgrades.
Location matters little for carbon dioxide emissions — no matter where the gas is emitted, it eventually mixes into the atmosphere and contributes to global climate change. However, location makes a big difference for air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, since those emissions tend to concentrate near their source and can impact the health of people living nearby. Studies have been exploring the connection between reducing climate-warming emissions and healthier air, and how that plays out at a local level. But Brian Sergi, Inês Azevedo and colleagues wanted to take an even more granular, county-by-county approach to assess how a combined climate-and-health-driven strategy for the U.S. electricity system might play out compared to one prioritizing only climate.
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