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Domes of Carbon Over U.S. Cities Damage Urban Health

A new study from a Stanford scientist looks closely at how carbon dioxide accumulates over urban areas, exacerbating air pollution and increasing local mortality. The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology estimates that local carbon dioxide emissions contribute to 50-100 premature deaths annually in California, and 300-1,000 premature deaths across the country every year.

The findings challenge the assumption that the impacts of carbon dioxide pollution are the same regardless of location. The human-caused emissions of the heat-trapping gas are the leading cause of global climate change, but “domes” of CO2 accumulate over cities, leading to additional health impacts on top of those related to global warming.

The author, Mark Z. Jacobson, concludes the domes of CO2 have fundamentally local consequences. Cutting local emissions, he argues, would reduce the related premature deaths in that area:

“If locally emitted CO2 increases local air pollution, then cities, counties, states, and small countries can reduce air pollution health problems by reducing their own CO2 emissions, regardless of whether other air pollutants are reduced locally or whether other locations reduce CO2.”

Of course, climate change also brings warmer temperatures and significant health consequences from heat waves. The Chicago heat wave of 1995 killed more than 700 people, and under lower emissions scenarios, similar heat waves are projected to happen every other year by the middle of the century. So reducing emissions is good for the health of cities in the short term and the long term.

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