New York City today has the worst air quality in the world, so now seems like a good time for a quick redux on air pollution. Essentially, everything we have learned in the last couple of decades points to the conclusion that air pollution is worse than we thought. Air pollution increases cancer and heart disease and those are just the more obvious effects. We now also now know that it reduces IQ and impedes physical and cognitive performance on a wide variety of tasks. Air pollution is especially bad for infants, who may have life-long impacts as well as the young and the elderly. I’m not especially worried about the wildfires but the orange skies ought to make the costs of pollution more salient. As Tyler noted, one reason air pollution doesn’t get the attention that it deserves is that it’s invisible and the costs are cumulative:
Air pollution causes many deaths. But it is rare to see or read about a person dying directly from air pollution. Lung cancer and cardiac disease are frequently cited as causes of death, even though they may stem from air pollution.
That’s the bad news. The good news, hidden inside the bad news, is that the costs of air pollution on productivity are so high that there are plausible ways of reducing some air pollution and increasing health and wealth, especially in high pollution countries but likely also in the United States with well-targeted policies.
For evidence on the above, you can see some of the posts below. Tyler and I have been posting about air pollution for a long time. Tyler first said air pollution was an underrated problem in 2005 and it was still underrated in 2021!