In the USA, Farms Now Cause More Air Pollution Than Coal and Natural Gas for Electricity

The quality of the air in the United States has improved substantially. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford have found that, US-economy-wide, gross external damage (GED) due to premature mortality has decreased by more than 20% from 2008 to 2014. The paper is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Damages from air pollution from farms are now larger than those from utilities in the USA. Indeed, farms have become the largest contributor to air pollution damages from PM2.5-related emissions.

The risks, however, remain high for several populations, and there is still much to learn about the sources and impacts of air pollution. Researchers calculated the ratio between the gross external damage (GED) created by industrial emissions and the value added (VA) of the same industry’s output to the economy. An important caveat is that GED in this context captures damages to the economy caused by air quality alone. It does not account for other types of pollution that could impact the economy (e.g., water pollution). Similarly, GED does not capture impacts to ecosystems services losses created by air pollution. Thus, GED should be interpreted as a lower bound on impacts of industrial activity on well-being. As a concept, the GED/VA ratio provides relevant information required for the design of efficient environmental and industrial policies. Industries with a GED/VA ratio less than 1 produce more VA to the economy than the damages they inflict and are thus positive net contributors to the economy.

From 2008 to 2014, damage to the economy caused by air pollution have fallen, but not all sectors of the economy have contributed equally to this process.

PNAS – Fine particulate matter damages and value added in the US economy

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