Science Wednesday: Air Science 40 Seminar

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By Maggie Sauerhage

The average person takes 15 breaths a minute. That adds up to 21,600 breaths a day and around 7,884,400 breaths a year. Just thinking about that leaves me breathless.

Recently, I attended a seminar on Capitol Hill titled “Air Quality in a Changing Climate: What the Future Holds for the Air We Breathe,” co-sponsored by EPA and the American Geophysical Union.

At the core of the seminar were presentations by EPA’s Dr. Darrell Winner, and Dr Jonathan Samet, a professor and chair of the Department of Preventative Medicine and Director of the USC Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California. Usually presentations on the effects of climate change leave me feeling lost and uncertain of the future of our planet.

This was different.

After Dr. Winner explained the climate change penalty on ozone—the relationship between ozone and temperature—he said that research shows that when emissions reductions are enforced, overall air quality improves.

He also mentioned the harmful effects of black carbon emissions. To help combat this problem, the EPA has joined the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to improve air quality and human health around the globe. He finished his lecture by saying that there are great opportunities to slow climate change while improving global public health.

Dr. Samet offered insights on the effects of air pollution and climate change on human health. He shared one particularly interesting slide: two world maps, side-by-side. One showed countries sized according to their contributions to air pollution and climate change. Large contributors, such as the United States, were enlarged. Small contributors, like many in Africa, were shrunken. Next to that map was one illustrating those countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change caused by air pollution.

The countries did not match up at all: the countries that contributed the least to the global pollution problem were identified as some of the most vulnerable!

Both men offered their own suggestions on actions that could both improve the quality of the air we breathe and possibly limit the impacts of climate change. I think that following these suggestions and improving air quality would help us all breathe a little easier.

To view the presentations from the seminar, please click here.

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is a student at Indiana University majoring in Spanish. She is spending the fall working at EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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