choking layer of pollution-laced fog settled over Minneapolis last month, blanketing the city in its worst air quality since 2005. A temperature inversion acted like a ceiling, trapping small particles emitted from sluggish engines and overworked heaters in a gauze that shrouded the skyline. That haze arrived amid the hottest winter on record for the Midwest. Warmer temperatures melted what little snow had fallen, releasing moisture that helped further trap pollution.

Though summertime pollution from wildfire smoke and ozone receives more attention, climate change is making these kinds of winter inversions increasingly common — with troubling results. One in 4 Americans are now exposed to unhealthy air, according to a report by First Street Foundation.

Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications research at the nonprofit climate research firm, calls this increase in air pollution a “climate penalty,” rolling back improvements made over four decades. On the West Coast, this inflection point was passed about 10 years ago; air quality across the region has consistently worsened since 2010. Now, a broader swath of the country is starting to see deteriorating conditions. During Canada’s boreal wildfires last summer, for example, millions of people from Chicago to New York experienced some of the worst air pollution in the world. It was a precedent-breaking spate that saw the average person exposed to more small particulate matter than at any time since tracking began in 2006.

It’s a preview of more to come….

…“The thing about air pollution is there’s only so much you can do at individual or civil society level,” said Christa Hasenkopf, the director of the Clean Air Program at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “It’s a political and social issue that has to be tackled at a national level.” The university’s Air Quality Life Index measures how air pollution is contributing to early deaths around the world, aiming to provide a clearer image of the health gaps. “The size of the impact on life expectancy in two relatively geographically nearby areas can be surprising,” she says, like between eastern and western Europe.

For her part, Hasenkopf is enthusiastic about First Street’s air quality report, hoping it will help highlight some of these inequities. Though 13 people die every minute from air pollution, funding for cleaner air solutions remains limited. “That disconnect between the size of the air pollution issue, and what resources we are devoting to it is quite startling,” Hasenkopf said.

Continue reading on Grist…

Areas of Focus: AQLI
Definition
AQLI
Particulate air pollution is one of the most serious risks to human health globally. To help communicate those risks, the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) converts particulate air pollution into...
Environment
Definition
Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Air Pollution
Definition
Air Pollution
Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion poses a grave threat to human health worldwide. EPIC research is using real-world data to calculate the effects of air pollution on human health...