By Jonathan J. Buonocore, Aaron S. Bernstein and Jonathan I. Levy
Policies can yield substantial health dividends
CLIMATE CHANGE CREATES risks that scientists have been warning about for decades. Fortunately, many actions that reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change and hedge against longer-term risks can also benefit public health right now. Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions often go hand in hand with reductions in air pollutants with well-established relationships to heart attacks, asthma, and premature death. These pollutants have also been linked to autism and Alzheimer’s. Although the federal government has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, cities and states continue to play leadership roles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the policies they enact can yield substantial health dividends to their residents.
A Massachusetts proposal to put a price on carbon pollution through a carbon-fee-and-rebate policy would generate nearly $3 billion in health benefits – saving lives, preventing heart attacks and other adverse health outcomes, and reducing hospitalizations in Massachusetts and its neighboring states – between 2017 and 2040. For states with larger populations and economies, the health co-benefits may be far greater. The health benefits of carbon policies occur nearly at the same time and place as the emissions reductions themselves, making these benefits particularly relevant for decision makers at the state and local levels.
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