A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change looks at the cost to the Chinese economy of lax air quality regulations between 1975 and 2005. The MIT researchers found that air pollutants produced a substantial socio-economic cost to China over the past three decades.
China has experienced unprecedented development over the past three decades, but this growth has come at a substantial cost to the country’s environment and public health. China is notorious for extremely high levels of air pollution. As the country faces continuous environmental challenges that mirror its continuing development, there is a need to measure the health impacts of air pollution.
What makes this study unique is that researchers looked at long-term economic impacts that arise from health damages, and how pollution-induced morbidity and mortality cases may have had ripple effects on the Chinese economy beyond the time period when those cases actually occurred. This method creates a comprehensive picture of the cumulative impacts of air pollution on a dynamic, fast-developing country.
“This study represents a more accurate picture than previous studies of the air-pollution damages associated with rapid economic development in China,” says Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division, with a joint appointment in atmospheric chemistry in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “A major advantage of this study over previous work is that it links state-of-the-art atmospheric modeling tools with a comprehensive global economic model incorporating health and economic damages from pollution.”
To observe how changes in pollutants, and their associated health impacts, have historically affected the Chinese economy, the MIT researchers modeled the number of cases of health incidences caused by air pollution — such as restricted-activity days, respiratory hospital admissions and asthma attacks, to name a few examples — given a pollution level and the number of people exposed. Then the model calculated the summed costs of these incidences — i.e., payments for health services and medicine, loss of labor and productivity from time off work, loss of leisure time needed for healing — to estimate the total change in available labor supply.
China has only recently begun monitoring levels of the second air pollutant, ozone. Chinese ozone data does not exist between 1970 and 2005, the period considered in the study. In fact, most air pollution studies of China omit the pollutant completely due to lack of data. However, the MIT study incorporates historical ozone levels over the past three decades as simulated by GEOS-Chem (a chemical transport model) and MIT’s Integrated Global Systems Model, thus significantly improving on previous studies of pollution damage.
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Article by Roger Greenway, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.