Studies Show 'Green' Efforts Could Assist Public Health

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A new series of research papers revealed that some measures designed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions may also benefit public health, which is an area that heavily influences many of Berkeley's energy-saving programs.

The papers, which were presented in Washington, D.C. last week by two UC Berkeley professors, showed that efforts made to reduce climate change can produce co-benefits in four areas: transportation, electricity generation, household energy use and food and agriculture.

Three of the papers were co-authored by Kirk Smith, UC Berkeley professor of global environmental health, and one paper was co-authored by Michael Jerrett, UC Berkeley associate professor of environmental health sciences.

According to Smith, the papers were designed to give policymakers key areas to achieve the greatest results.

"We're planning to spend trillions of dollars to reduce climate change, why not spend it at least first on things that are going to give us other benefits too, like health?" he said.

Smith added that public health co-benefits to reducing greenhouse gases may push previously reluctant countries to do more to lower emissions.

"For poor countries who don't feel like they have extra money to protect themselves against climate change, you can show them they get benefits for their own peoples' health, which helps bridge the political divide," he said.

One of the papers' findings dealt with the use of low-emissions cookstoves in India, which reduce the occurrence of respiratory illnesses compared to cooking with wood or coal, and also cut down on emissions.

A case study led by Smith found the largest health benefit found in all six papers-if 150 million cookstoves were to be implemented in India, 2 million lives could be saved over a ten-year period, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds of millions of tons.

Another paper led by Smith analyzed black carbon emissions in 66 U.S. cities over an 18-year period, the first study of its kind.

According to Smith, particles such as black carbon and ozone are unique because they only remain in the atmosphere for several weeks, and therefore removing them from the atmosphere would produce more rapid benefits.

"If you eliminated black carbon this week, by Christmas there would be none left," he said. "It would be a century before you'd see much change if you eliminated all the carbon dioxide today."

In the transportation sector, co-benefits can be achieved by increasing the usage of public transportation and reducing vehicle use, which cuts down on air pollution and also decreases rates of obesity and heart disease by allowing people to be more active.

According to Timothy Burroughs, the city of Berkeley's Climate Action coordinator, many of the city's green efforts help improve public health, such as encouraging cycling and public transit use and creating communities where people have to travel less to work, school and shopping.

"Creating a more safe cycling and pedestrian environment is one of the key priorities," he said. "It reduces emissions associated with driving and also creates more active lifestyles in the community."


Contact Amy Brooks at [email protected]

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