By Nikhil M Ghanekar

Michael Greenstone, is the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and Director, Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. Greenstone, who also served as chief economist in President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, is currently working with the central and state governments to help industries curb air pollution using continuous emission monitoring. In an interview, Greenstone spoke about air pollution, climate change and President Donald Trump.

India is yet to have official data on pollution linked mortality, Environment Minister Anil Dave recently said. In your view, how seriously does lack of data impacts implementation of environmental regulations?
We are at the dawn of an era where we can move from policy made evidence making, where we announce the policy and simultaneously announce the evidence, to evidence based policy-making. This way, we can learn how the world works and use that to guide policy, so that it achieves its objectives.

I think we are at the dawn of that era due to several things; advances in computing, advances in access to data and a deep understanding of how to design experiments that can provide answers to critical energy and environment questions that people in India and other parts of the world are facing. I think there is one thing that is underappreciated about particulate matter. Given its consequences for life expectancy around the world, in my view it is the greatest current environmental threat to human well being around the planet. There are hundreds of billions of people who live with concentrations of particulate matter that are causing their lives to be shorter by several years.

How does the environment minister’s approach towards global reports, denying rigorous academic work, bode for our fight against pollution?
I think the minister is right to question, there is always an important issue when results from one place apply to another, and the minister was right to question the studies conducted in the US or at places with relatively low levels of pollution, do they apply to India today. I haven’t read the studies. But my understanding, possibly incorrect, is that they are applying results, from the studies conducted in the US to the air pollution in India. They have not necessarily conducted those studies at the levels of pollution in India…

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Areas of Focus: Environment
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Air Pollution
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