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Health and equity implications of individual adaptation to air pollution in a changing climate.

  • Sparks, Matt
  • Farahbakhsh, Isaiah
  • Anand, Madhur
  • Bauch, Chris
  • East, James
  • Li, Tianyuan
  • Lickley, Megan
  • Garcia-Menendez, Fernando
  • Saari, Rebecca
  • Monier, Erwan
  • Conlon, Kathryn
Publication Date
Jan 30, 2024
eScholarship - University of California
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Future climate change can cause more days with poor air quality. This could trigger more alerts telling people to stay inside to protect themselves, with potential consequences for health and health equity. Here, we study the change in US air quality alerts over this century due to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), who they may affect, and how they may respond. We find air quality alerts increase by over 1 mo per year in the eastern United States by 2100 and quadruple on average. They predominantly affect areas with high Black populations and leakier homes, exacerbating existing inequalities and impacting those less able to adapt. Reducing emissions can offer significant annual health benefits ($5,400 per person) by mitigating the effect of climate change on air pollution and its associated risks of early death. Relying on people to adapt, instead, would require them to stay inside, with doors and windows closed, for an extra 142 d per year, at an average cost of $11,000 per person. It appears likelier, however, that people will achieve minimal protection without policy to increase adaptation rates. Boosting adaptation can offer net benefits, even alongside deep emission cuts. New adaptation policies could, for example: reduce adaptation costs; reduce infiltration and improve indoor air quality; increase awareness of alerts and adaptation; and provide measures for those working or living outdoors. Reducing emissions, conversely, lowers everyones need to adapt, and protects those who cannot adapt. Equitably protecting human health from air pollution under climate change requires both mitigation and adaptation.

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