Super Cities №197—Polluted Cities are Killers

Brendan Hart

On November 15, 1990, President George HW Bush signed the modern Clean Air Act.

It was sensible legislation.

According to the EPA, from 1990 to 2010, the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 premature deaths; 130,00 cases of heart disease; and thirteen million lost work days.

Clean air was a problem in 1990s America, but it is a much larger problem today for most of the industrialized world. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 4 million per year die from air pollution. Those people live in cities.

In fact, according to a recent study of 4300 cities worldwide, only 20% of the urban population live in areas that meet air quality standards.

Although it is a global challenge, air pollution is most acute in cities in India and China.

India and China — the two most populous countries in the world — are dealing with polluted air on a difficult-to-image scale.

Together these two countries account for 47-out-of–50 of the most polluted cities in the world. India has 20-out-of–25 of the most polluted cities in the world. China has most of the bottom half.

This trend is dire.

By 2050, an additional 400-plus million Indians — and 255 million Chinese — will live in cities. Along with Nigeria, India and China will account for 35% of global urban growth by 2050. If India and China don’t gain control of urban pollution, they are looking at an additional 650 million people who will be at enormous, quantifiable risk.

The upshot is that the American example shows clear and compelling evidence of why cleaning up pollution is smart policy.

In addition to the health-related benefits, America’s economy has boomed since the Clean Air Act. The EPA estimates that:

Between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants dropped 68 percent, while the U.S. gross domestic product grew 212 percent.

Additionally, the cost of solar and other renewables have dropped precipitously. Renewable energy is an increasingly viable option for cities around the world.

One need not be a radical environmentalist, nor a win-at-all-cost capitalist, to understand that there are compelling reasons for India and China – and all countries – to clean up their cities.

The health and wealth of billions of people depend on it.

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