THE MYTH OF CO2 AND PUBLIC HEALTH
March 8, 2011
Posted by Matt Dempsey firstname.lastname@example.org
EPW POLICY BEAT: THE MYTH OF CO2 AND PUBLIC HEALTH
"The Clean Air Act is one of the best public health success stories of the past four decades...” True enough. This success should continue. But it won’t by making knowingly false claims about carbon dioxide emissions and public health.
Exhibit A is Earth Justice. It opposes the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which would stop EPA from issuing job-destroying carbon dioxide regulations. This is fair game. But denouncing the bill for allowing “the nation's biggest polluters a way out of limits to their carbon dioxide pollution that's likely to exacerbate asthma and lung diseases by worsening smog,” is not. That’s because it’s a myth.
This myth is predicated on a ridiculously attenuated argument, which goes as follows: the Energy Tax Prevention Act will allow more carbon into the air; more carbon into the air will cause higher greenhouse gas concentrations; higher greenhouse gas concentrations will cause higher temperatures; higher temperatures will cause more ozone; more ozone will cause more asthma.
This is the best opponents can deliver, as no one, not even Earth Justice (we hope), would dare assert in public that carbon dioxide, something we exhale, and something necessary for life on Earth, would directly cause or exacerbate asthma.
Hence the myth. The following charts very clearly repudiate Earth Justice and the public health-asthma-CO2 myth.
Chart number 1 comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, and shows ozone emissions steadily dropping from 1998 to 2008. In fact, ozone emissions have been dropping for two decades.
The U.S. national ozone trend is the average of the ozone trends from 166 ozone monitoring sites (111 urban, 55 rural). The map below shows their locations.
Now, chart number 2, from the Energy Information Administration, delineating carbon emissions. The chart shows carbon emissions increased slightly from 1990 to 2006. In 2007, they start to decline, and continue to decline through 2009, thanks to the recession.
So what is happening to asthma? Here’s the kicker. Chart number 3, again from EPA, shows “lifetime asthma diagnosis prevalence in children and adults in the U.S.” from 1997 to 2008. As is evident from the charts, asthma diagnosis prevalence has, for the most part, increased over the period for children and adults.
Earth to Earth Justice: carbon emissions have gone down and ozone has gone down, yet asthma prevalence has gone up. Go figure.
But this is not a startling revelation. That’s because carbon dioxide emissions don’t cause asthma, either directly or indirectly, and don’t harm public health. The Energy Tax Prevention Act is not about asthma or public health, but about protecting jobs and helping the economy grow.