California Likely to “Suffer Most,” Says Study

Photo: Craig Miller

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.

  • http://cagreening.blogspot.com/ Wes Rolley

    Good post. I used it as a source, as well as the summary of the same report at Mother Jones. When you add that cost to what we already experience due to poor air quality (2006 and 2008 reports from CSU Fullerton, it is easy to come to the conclusion that fixing climate change is the most important thing we can do.

    My own blog post at http://cagreening.blogspot.com/2011/06/climate-change-how-bad-can-it-be.html

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    The study by these pretend scientists is bogus, temperature has very little to do with the production of ozone.

    While most chemical reactions increase with an increase in temperature, we may conclude that there is a correlation in a sense. However, in the case of global warming the effect is minimal. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH 2005) lists the TLV for ozone at 0.05 ppm. A 3°F increase (such as 3% of 97–100°F) would only raise ozone from 0.100 ppm to 0.103 ppm.

    The USEPA has declared that ground level ozone is created by a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight (UV). Temperature is not mentioned in this definition.

    • Craig Miller

      I ran this by some folks at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and this is their response:

      According to a Bay Area Air Quality Management District study, a 3 degree increase in temperature could increase ozone about 0.009 ppm (parts per million), which has significant adverse health impacts.
      More importantly, a 3 degree increase in global average temperature will likely result in more extreme weather events such as more frequent heat waves, longer ozone episodes, and longer self-cleaning periods (ventilation) of the atmosphere. They all lead to adverse health impacts. Even a small temperature anomaly in the equatorial Pacific Ocean causes El Nino or La Nina which impacts winter weather patterns in the US significantly. Under these patterns, weather swings from devastating flooding conditions to very dry conditions. The issue is not just a small increase or decrease in temperatures, it is the end result.