By Matthew O’Brien

Maybe it’s just me, but the last few years are getting tough to tell apart. Imagine a quiz question:

Name that year where we threw obstacles in the recovery’s way, but kept growing slowly; where Europe avoided both a disaster and a solution to its mess; and where China kept growing over 7 percent, but didn’t rebalance its economy like it said it wants.

You’d be right to guess 2013. You’d also be right to guess 2012, 2011, or 2010.

So, to remind ourselves what did change in the last 12 months, we asked our favorite economists, journalists, and think-tankers for their favorite charts of the year. The stock market went on a tear, the labor market didn’t, and Wall Street and Main Street came to terms with a New Normal. Without further ado, here are 37,000 words worth of charts to tell the most important stories of 2013.

The Year in Chinese Pollution: A Killer

Michael Greenstone, 3M Professor of Environmental Economics, MIT: The Chinese government has provided highly subsidized coal for heating north of the Huai River, which delineates North and South China, since the 1950s. The policy dramatically increased total suspended particulate (TSP) air pollution in the north of China (see above, where the circles are proportional to population at each degree latitude north and south of the Huai River boundary). The higher air pollution concentrations increased the cardiorespiratory (e.g., strokes, lung cancers, and heart attacks) mortality rates, reducing life expectancies in the North by 5.5 years, relative to the South. Ultimately, this policy is causing the 500 million residents of Northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion years in life expectancy. [Source: Y. Chen, A. Ebenstein, M. Greenstone, H. Li, Evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River policy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110, 12936-12941 (2013).]

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Areas of Focus: 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...