Switching to cleaner fuels could reduce racial disparities in air pollution

Adopting low-carbon energy would not only help fight climate change but could also reduce racial and ethnic disparities in exposure to air pollution, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis.

New research published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found differences in exposure to fine and ultrafine particulates could be reduced between 20 and 40% in 2050 if clean energy was used for transport, cooking, heating and power generation instead of fossil fuels.

The UC Davis researchers analyzed future energy use and emissions scenarios in four regions – the San Francisco Bay area including Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego. The energy scenarios ranged from business as usual to strict reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

All California residents benefitted from improved air quality when low-carbon fuels, carbon capture or other actions were adopted, the analysis showed.

The analysis also showed that adopting low-carbon fuels can help address some of the historical imbalances in air pollution exposure.

For example, Black residents experience higher levels of pollution than white residents in Los Angeles, but the detailed analysis carried out in the study showed that using larger quantities of low-carbon fuels reduced those exposure disparities.  Similar results were found in other regions, with the groups living closest to the urban cores benefitting the most.

‘Not only does it improve air quality, but it also shrinks the disparity among different groups,’ said Michael Kleeman, the study’s senior author and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering who is also a member of the Atmospheric Science Graduate Group and the Institute for Transportation Studies. ‘It levels the playing field for all California residents.’

The researchers argue this information is important to policy discussions about cutting pollution levels and environmental justice.

‘We often talk about low carbon fuels and greenhouse gas reductions, but there’s not a lot of talk about public health,’ Kleeman said. ‘The public health benefits associated with low carbon fuels should be a part of these conversations.’

Photo by stephanie dawn


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2 years ago

I’m sure this can help but what exactly do they mean by low-carbon fuels? I hope the eventual goal is to stop using coal, gas,oil, wood and biomass pellets altogether. If by low-carbon these researchers mean biomass I think that would be a step backwards. It’s still about combustion and that’s where the health (and environmental) problem lies. Instead of going for low-carbon they should be promoting wind, tidal, and solar energy but I suppose not everything can run on those yet. It will come.

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