Burning fossil fuels has long powered world economies while contributing to air pollution and the buildup of greenhouse gases.
Burning fossil fuels has long powered world economies while contributing to air pollution and the buildup of greenhouse gases. A new analysis of nearly two decades of satellite data shows that economic development, fossil-fuel combustion and air quality are closely linked on the continental and national scales, but can be decoupled at the national level, according to Penn State scientists.
“We know air pollution and economic development are linked, but we want to know how tightly and whether our actions can change this,” said Ruixue Lei, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. “We found they are not inherently bonded and can be decoupled under favorable policies.”
While previous research has explored the connections between air pollution, fossil-fuel emissions and economic growth, the study is the first to examine all three jointly to determine their long-term, global relationships, the scientists said.
“The significance of this study is that data from satellites was used for the first time to prove that we actually do not need to sacrifice our environment while at the same time having a growth economy,” said Sha Feng, assistant research professor of meteorology and atmospheric science. “This relationship can be detangled, but countries may need infrastructure or policy support to make it happen.”
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Image: The city of Denver, Colorado, blanketed by smog. (Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)