California is likely to suffer more than any other state from worsening air pollution due to climate change by the end of the decade, according to a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The report finds that in 2020, “climate change-induced ozone increases” could result in nearly half a million additional cases of “serious respiratory illnesses” and add more than $729 million to the state’s health care costs.
The report also singles out Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, but California tops the list because of the large populations living in areas of the state already subject to poor air quality: the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles area.
“California already has a big challenge in meeting air quality standards,” said UCS senior engineer Don Anair. “The fact that the temperature is rising is going to make it even harder to meet those standards.”
Ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, is formed when heat and sunlight interact with emissions from burning fossil fuels. Warmer temperatures, Anair said, will make this worse. According to the report, U.S. temperatures have increased more than 2 degrees F during the past century and are projected to rise another 3-5.5 degrees F by 2050.
“Studies have shown dangerous side effects of ozone, which is why we have these protective health standards in place throughout the country,” said Anair. “Breathing this pollution has an impact on our lungs and our body and can result in exacerbating asthma attacks and respiratory illness.”
But all the news isn’t bad. Anair said that California’s new Renewables Portfolio Standard, which mandates that the state get 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 will help cut emissions that contribute to both climate change and ozone pollution. The next step, he said, is increasing fuel efficiency in cars.
The California Air Resources Board is currently working with the Obama Administration to develop new standards for new cars and trucks that hit the road between 2017 and 2025. Scenarios being considered would increase average fleet fuel efficiency to between 47 and 62 miles per gallon.