If you live in an Indian metro, you don’t need a newspaper to tell you that air pollution affects our daily lives. The thick gray fog clouds our cityscapes, and causes major health problems for many people, especially vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Pressure on the government to take urgent action is mounting: A recent study from Harvard University has determined that eliminating harmful emissions from power plants could save an estimated annual 11 million years of life in India, and 15 million years of life in China.
More than a third of the global population live in China and India, both countries where air pollution causes increasing numbers of fatalities. Air pollution is ranked the fourth-most common cause of death in China and the fifth-most common in India, and harmful emissions from coal-fire power plants are a major contributing factor.
Previous research has explored mortality from exposure to fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5) in India and China, but few studies have quantified the impact of specific sources and regions of pollution, let alone identified efficient strategies to mitigate air pollution.
Using state-of-the-art atmospheric chemistry modeling, the researchers calculated province-specific annual changes in mortality and life expectancy due to power generation. Using the province-specific approach, the researchers were able to narrow down the areas of highest priority, recommending upgrades to the existing power generating technologies in Shandong, Henan, and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh in India.
“This study shows how modeling advances and expanding monitoring networks are strengthening the scientific basis for setting environmental priorities to protect the health of ordinary Chinese and Indian citizens,” said Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project and a co-author of the paper. “It also drives home just how much middle-income countries could benefit by transitioning to non-fossil electricity sources as they grow.”
Hopefully, this research, and further examinations of specific sources of air pollution in India, will provide a regulatory roadmap for governments to tackle these public health crises. Now they just have to act on the information.