> We find that long-term exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and math tests.
> We provide evidence that the effect of air pollution on verbal tests becomes more pronounced as people age, especially for men and the less educated.
> The damage on the aging brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions.
> “Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” Yale School of Public Health's Professor Xi Chen, one of the report's authors, said in an interview published in The Guardian.
> Cutting annual mean concentration of particulate matter smaller than 10 μm (PM10) in China to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard (50 μg/m3) would move people from the median to the 63rd percentile (verbal test scores) and the 58th percentile (math test scores), respectively.
For reference, another study in China found that top-decile levels of lead poisoning (>10 micrograms per deciliter) cost children about two points of IQ on both math and verbal scales. That's not trivially convertible to percentile performance, and I don't know whether air pollution has long-tail effects anything like the horrible long-tail on lead poisoning.
But it does suggest that particulate pollution has effects on the same general scale as childhood lead poisoning, which is pretty striking.
Underlying study is here: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/08/21/1809474115
Lead study is here:
More crucially, the main result here was about older adults losing capacities. If someone tells me that a 70 year old dementia patient has effectively "lost a year of education", I don't have any idea what I should expect.
On a wild tangent, there has been a huge increase in clickbait over the past several years.
In short: no.
This study was done in China, and asked "what would happen if we lowered 10 micron particulate pollution levels to the US EPA standard?" Air pollution in China is substantially worse than in the US, and 10 micron particulates (PM10) are one of the largest points of divergence: China relies heavily on unfiltered coal burning for electricity, as well as conducting mining and road construction with minimal particulate control.
Unfortunately I can't get the API data appendix for the study, and the paper's figures are functions of mean API, but the data shouldn't be paper specific. All sources I can find agree: fine particulate pollution levels in China are horrifying. Almost all of China is consistently exposed to more than 40 micrograms per cubic meter of PM10 particulates, and urban centers are consistently much higher. Recent progress has lowered average rates in many cities into the 40-100 microgram window, but in 2010 annual average rates commonly exceeded 150 micrograms, which is the acute (24 hour) threshold set by the EPA.
The benchmark value in the study was 50 micrograms per cubic meter, which was (until 2006, when the standard was scrapped), the EPA's safe limit for annual average exposure. In America, across several hundred sites monitored in 2017, zero exceeded 100 micrograms, only four exceeded the 50 microgram threshold, and only twelve exceeded 40 micrograms. For 2016, those numbers are zero, four, and ten. The hardest-hit sites are all in the Southwestern US, which suffers from both dust and wildfire particulate matter frequently.
Further, not all PM10 particulates are created equal. They're grouped in a single number because the usual focus of concern is inhalation leading to lung problems, but when discussing cognitive effects they're almost certainly not equivalent. In particular, PM2.5 (2.5 micron particles) are a subset of PM10, and are both more likely to enter the bloodstream and more likely to be bioactive substances like metal, organics, or soot. Particulates between 2.5 and 10 microns are more likely to be dust, pollen, or ash - damaging to lungs, but much less likely to cause systemic harm. This study did admirable work controlling for or disproving confounders - I'm genuinely very impressed by how well they covered that base. But the PM10/PM2.5 conflation was inescapable since PM2.5 is a subset of the variable and wasn't measured separately.
(The study relied on an Air Pollution Index observing sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and PM10, with the value controlled by the highest subfactor. From the references exclusively to PM10 and from China's other data, I assume that it was consistently the dominant factor, as it is in the US, but if it correlates with the other factors then one of them could potentially drive the effect. Nevertheless, SO2 and NO2 are essentially acute-only problems in the US, with average rates well below EPA thresholds.)
The highest-PM10 sites in the US look prone to dust and ash pollutants, and indeed checking the data says that their PM2.5 levels, while high, trend linearly up from other sites while their PM10 levels rise exponentially. The worst PM10 sites have PM2.5:PM10 ratios of around 20%. The highest PM2.5:PM10 ratios are between 50% and 70%. These are predictably found in industrial Rust Belt cities like Dearborn and Steubenville, but the total levels are still relatively low. 13 cities exceeded the annual EPA standard of 12 micrograms, and none exceeded 17 micrograms. 21 cities had 98th percentile rates in excess of the EPA daily standard of 35 micrograms; excluding outlier Phoenix (146 micrograms) the highest was 67 micrograms.
Meanwhile, China's PM2.5 rates have only recently been measured, but are terrifyingly high. China sets 0-35 micrograms as a Grade I success and 35-75 micrograms as Grade II success. Wuhan, selected as an average Chinese city for a study in 2013, exceeded the Grade II standard 75% of the time, and exceeded 150 micrograms (which, again, is the acute PM10 threshold!) 25% of the time. National samples show all cities profiled have PM2.5:PM10 ratios above 50%, and some exceed 80%. Most days in most cities in China, the PM2.5 level is higher than the highest observed rates for any site in the US except Phoenix.
Where does this leave us? China's PM10 rates are vastly higher than the worst American rates. China's PM2.5 rates, which are likely more relevant, are even more divergent. Annual NO2 and SO2 rates in the US are insignificant. The available evidence suggests that under any plausible shape for this effect - linear or exponential, threshold or LNT - its effects would be immeasurable anywhere in the US except perhaps 2-3 weakly affected cities. In all cases, other known impairing pollutants like carbon monoxide would be far more impactful.
This has been quite a tangent, but overall it's increased my appreciation for this study, while leading me to believe this result is basically irrelevant to US analyses.
You offered an interesting thought, and I couldn't find anybody actually taking on "how does this compare to USA data?", so it was as much to settle my own curiosity as anything.
IQ isn't used for anything meaningful in terms of ability or qualifications, especially since it's age-adjusted and historically has been biased against minorities/foreigners. A year of development however, is a graspable (if shocking) measure of lost opportunity/capability.
I have no idea at all. I'm not trying to be snarky, I completely failed to grasp what's being lost until I went and looked at the paper.
A year of education is certainly quantifiable when we're talking about learned facts and skills, or even about economic success, but I don't understand it as a measure of cognitive impairment. The studied harms should still be relevant to a farmer who's never spent a single day in a classroom, and the analysis in the study focuses on older adults losing fundamental capacities that are important to decision-making and daily functioning. Using a metric that's based on education doesn't clearly convey losses like that, especially when we're talking about not missed advancement in children but decline in older adults.
The actual result obtained in this study was performance on a set of scores on verbal and mathematical tests relative to a population average. The result in the lead study was a set of verbal and mathematical tests relative to a population average. Expressing one as percentiles and the other as IQ doesn't change the fact that those things are far more similar to each other than either is to keeping children in school for an extra year.
(On a final note, I don't want to open the IQ debate, but I do think the usual problems are uncommonly irrelevant here. I specifically pulled a lead study which was conducted in China, used a Chinese baseline, and compared among same-age children, which avoids the biases mentioned. IQ may be a terrible general comparison, but if we don't need to compare between samples in different studies then it's really just a percentile.)
Is it? What people remember of one year of education is probably very little to begin with and it only gets less over time; it doesn't seem unbelievable that pollution could cause those memories to decay faster.
That said, modern IQ doesn't use that definition, and all of the material you can easily find on the matter pretends that it does. Instead, IQ is a normalized bell curve, every 15 points is another standard deviation on the bell curve. Given that definition, a year's worth of education is probably guesstimated at roughly one standard deviation of IQ. This comes with the massive caveat that IQ and educational achievement can't be compared in that manner (since one is an absolute scale and the other is definitionally a statistical artifact).
I tried to take a serious stab at "what does this mean for air in the US?", and my best conclusion is "probably almost nothing". The full notes are here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18231784
That said... yes. Electrification is a massive improvement in the US, Canada, and Western Europe, but much less useful in Russia, China, and much of SE Asia. Adding to that, pushing pollution sources away from cities reinforces the demographic crisis China has had brewing for a long time, with everything from lead to lack of iodine creating serious permanent health issues in rural regions.
This is the same tactic they use on trade. They're hyper protectionist about access to their economy, and then claim they're free traders.
"China's leading role in financing a wave of new coal plants across Asia is drawing fresh scrutiny as the world’s top climate scientists weigh calling for much deeper cuts in emissions. China, India, Japan and the Philippines rank among the biggest investors in the 1,380 coal plants under construction or development worldwide, according to a study by the German pressure group Urgewald released Thursday."
"The research, carried out by green campaigners CoalSwarm, suggests that 259 gigawatts of new capacity are under development in China. The authors say this is the same capacity to produce electricity as the entire US coal fleet. The report says that at present China has 993 gigawatts of coal power capacity, but the approved new plants would increase this by 25%."
The graph you linked mostly shows exponential growth, with a slowdown in the last measured year. But similar kinks are visible twice before, with growth continuing at the same pace afterwards. I wouldn't call that "plateauing".
CNG is at least way better than diesel.
If you have to use fossil fuels a combined cycle natural gas plant generating electricity and electric buses is your best option.
That said I tend to discount arguments that compare things to coal since coal just needs to go away.
Natural gas might be better, but for whatever reason it’s never taken off here. Seems like electric is the way things are going.
Its not for everyone in every big city but certainly the Dutch model of transitioning cities from cars to transit and pedestrian/cycle focus is probably the clearest model for sustainable and healthy tansport out there.
Cycling infrastructure is amazing. It is almost always faster to travel by bike than by car.
They did it so long ago and the world still hasn’t caught up. I’m very sad about that.
Also somehow the amount of cars per capita is still very high in NL.
That's OK. We can keep up the consumerist "Everybody needs a car" mentality as long as the amount of driving per capita stays low.
I live in the UK and I probably wouldn't consider getting a bike again, simply because I know it would be nicked within a month.
I personally had 4 bikes stolen in 5 years.
We almost never used the Métro, what was the point? Saved money and no one ever stole my wallet!
I commute with a bike every day in Paris, France. The infrastructure isn't great but it's OK, and it's improving. The thing is: I'm a big, strong guy who can legally outrun most cars and motorbikes in such a big, dense city. I can fight my way in traffic, mostly because the law authorizes bikes to go both ways in most streets, to run red lights https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idaho_stop, to ride between traffic lanes, etc. Most people are terrified to ride here so you only have the most reckless persons on bikes, including me. Although I'm respect the law (which does not make riding safe because no one wants to be anywhere near a big bus/truck, or between vehicles, or stuck in a diesel tailpipe…), I end up riding dangerously making people think that biking is only for reckless guys.
The worst is that, the more I respect the law, the more drivers get angry at me for taking to much space or slowing traffic down. So you move as quick and close as possible to vehicles and pedestrians. That's absurd but that how it is.
It's an infrastructure problem. The more you give space to bikes, the more reckless bikers can finally ride prudently, or prudent people dare to ride (making reckless bikers a tiny minority). It's the same with cars: what would happen if the infrastructure made car driving dangerous? You would only have road hogs and people would just hate cars.
Being a cyclist, I thought I found a slice of heaven. I thought about being an urban planner when I got back to the States.
I've been a car driver and a cyclist there for ~10 years now. Believe me, being the former is much easier than the latter. If you're on a bike, many assume you're just having a good time (either on vacation or unemployed, as many people says) so the politicians/police/media won't care about your well being and focus instead of the transportation means of "serious people", i.e cars and motorbikes.
It's insulting, because I do have a car (and a parking spot) but everything pushes me to drive it instead of riding my vélo (which makes no noise, does not emit anything, takes very little space, doesn't damage the road, is far less dangerous to others, makes me fit and save health insurance costs...). Go figure.
Additionally, low density US cities are one of the worst places I’ve seen for cycling, because not only is everything spread out, but also the multi-lane roads everywhere make it much more dangerous than equivalently populated towns and cities in Europe. Despite having cycled through central London (UK) and just over 1,000 km along the Rhine, there’s no way you’d see me cycling around Salt Lake City or Sacramento. I’ve cycled around Davis (CA), but Davis has better than US average cycling infrastructure — almost as good as the average level in the UK.
In general, traffic speeds are low in London and there are lots of quiet side routes that are well suited to cycling. We’re no Amsterdam, but cycling is certainly much more popular and visible than it was 5-10 years ago.
A lot more people can pass any point in a biketrack per hour than they can per subwaytrack, and they can often take a more direct path to their destination using bikes than they can by subway. That also means that a bike system is better suited to a city where both the departure and the destination are diverse among all "packets".
That's not even starting to talk about how biketracks scale much better economically since they are much cheaper to build.
Trains coming in each couple minutes - show me lower latency than that :)
>A lot more people can pass any point in a biketrack per hour than they can per subwaytrack
several hundreds (up to a thousand in rush hour packing) people per train each couple of minutes - beat that.
Anyway, the rest of what you're saying about biking is just a theory that doesn't come even close to the reality of any big dense city in Europe/Asia. This is why those cities has highly developed subway system - the low latency high bandwidth and high speed mode of transportation. You put all these people on bikes and they would choke the city.
For it to be too dense for biking to be a viable transport they would have to be much denser than European cities which would by definition not allow for parking in the places where business takes place (in which case nobody would drive).
Most American cities were clearly designed with cars in mind, while most European where not (having grown organically rather than being designed), and while the American decision might have seemed better for the better part of the last 100 years, that might not be the case for the next couple of decades.
China is using 100% methanol and other lesser methanol fuel that are produced from coal. But in other places you could use gas.
This would also be faster then full electrification. The US missed out massivly. The gas boom could have lead to very cheap and relativly clean fuel.
It would also be great to have that infrastructure because you can also do fuel cells with the same infrastructure.
With these fuel it very much depends on a lot of factors.
However a overall police towards use of fuel alcohol would overall be very benefical.
Both in terms of emission and in terms of price competition.
EDIT: I'm referencing this:
A series of studies by Tsinghua University, whose alumni includes the incumbent president, showed electric vehicles charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog versus gas-engine cars. Hybrid vehicles fare little better.
For example: the final stages of a steam condensing turbine are actually operating under vacuum relative to atmospheric pressure. To start the turbine a vacuum pump first removes the the air from the turbine. After steams works its way through the turbine it is cooled by feed water (which is then used in the boiler) reducing it's volume by about 1000 times maintaining the vacuum.
An ICE on the other hand expels a good portion of the input energy as hot exhaust gasses several PSI above atmospheric pressure.
From a CO2/efficiency standpoint, you're correct. A modern EV powered purely by coal power plants puts out less CO2 than a gasoline car, largely because of the efficiency difference between large power plants and ICE.
From a SO2/NO2 standpoint, EVs powered by coal would be far far worse, assuming gasoline. Gas/Diesel these days is ultra low sulfur, which reduces SO2 significantly. The only remaining issue is NO2, which is why the catalytic converter is there.
The only caveat is Diesel. Diesel engines, especially older ones, are pretty horrid things. It's only in the last couple of year have we started to get the particulate under control with DPFs, and the NOx issue remains very difficult to fix cheaply (see: VW). Chances are any diesel engines running in a place like China will be old and lack both DPFs and Urea based NOx control systems.
I am uncertain as to whether old diesel trucks or coal power plants produce more NOx.
Modern ICE are amazingly sophisticated, EV in comparison have limited range, potential polluting issues, battery creation rare earth component scarcity issues and a massive dead battery disposal problem. We'll get there with a grid and more practical EV's but we're not there yet
Total cost of ownership of an EV is getting close to a tipping point where EV is a better deal than electric. One thing pushing that way is the many moving parts of ICE vehicles leading to more maintenance needed. Another is that modern car batteries are turning out to have longevity much higher than what was projected by critics (early Tesla cars still have 90% of initial battery capacity). Another is that the cost per mile in terms of energy is an order of magnitude cheaper. The only thing really stopping electric is that people have been wary to invest heavily in the factories that were necessary to produce the economies of scale that would lower the price. Since Tesla has done that, prices are dropping and everyone else is being forced to follow.
ICE vehicles are losing market share, because the more practical EVs you mentioned are already here.
With an EV, if you are not driving already, your car will likely be almost fully charged at your home or office while the earthquake strikes. You will then have about 300 miles of driving to a place with power.
According to the 2015 DOE analysis, the wheel to wheel emissions from EVs was less than half that of ICE cars. Even in WV, a coal heavy state, EVs produced less emissions than gasoline cars.
You can plant tree, reduce plastics production AND switch to EV. For some reason, every time the case for the electrification of transport is presented, other legitimate, complementary causes are put forward as opposable. As if reducing emissions was a zero-sum game…
Electrification of surface transportation is a huge win for people regardless of how the electricity is generated.
The problem is it presents a false dichotomy, or at least a choice which highlights merely a current state and not a move towards future improvements, and uses that blindless to make a case against EVs.
Thing is, even if a country is 100% coal and ICE right now (which is already not the case, China is not 100% coal), moving the fleet to EVs is still a good move. Putting aside an argument as to whether central power generation is 'cleaner' than distributed (ICE) generation, as long as a country also makes moves to renewables in it's centralized power generation, then the two things work in conjunction.
A lot of the current 'omg greenwashing' push-back is people confusing arguments for 'better' solutions with those for 'perfect' solutions. Which don't exist. Better is still worth doing, and paralysis until 'perfect' comes along is a big ol' waste of everyone's time.
Vehicles have limited under the hood space and are distributed.
But we definitely need to improve power plant emission standards as we move to electric.
Easy to look at : https://www.electricitymap.org
(but no mention of solar, wind, drastically reducing our energy consumption, etc?)
It's mostly plants and zooplankton
If by "max efficiency" you mean "less terrible than just wasting that energy" then sure but it's still a lot less efficient than a highway cruise.
Edit: why the downmod? Energy is energy.
Both would be major living standard improvement.
Urban citizens have better access to low carbon transportation (Walking, Biking, Mass Transit).
Urban citizens are easier to reach in many last mile problems. Power lines can be shared by more users. Less network cable needs to be laid per user. Fewer miles of water pipes are required.
Apartments common in urban areas are more fuel efficient for heating/cooling than stand alone houses commonly seen in suburbs and rural areas.
The reason for this is two-fold:
1. Modern gasoline cars produce very clean exhaust.
2. Most of the particulate pollution comes from wear on tires, brake and the road surface. And electric cars, being heavier than average, produce more wear on tires and road surface.
Electrification is part of the puzzle, but we also need to get people out of giant, heavy vehicles into right-sized vehicles for their trip. (And the majority of trips are less than 5 miles!)
Edit for the people asking for sources:
The lit review suggesting EVs have >90% as much particulate emissions as internal-combustion: http://www.soliftec.com/NonExhaust%20PMs.pdf
Another review that acknowledges these numbers vary depending on rainy vs dry climate, use of snow tires, etc...
It’s true that tire wear may be increased slightly due to weight, but electrics aren’t that much heavier than combustion vehicles: typically 10-20% more for comparable vehicles of the same size/class.
Under normal road/wear conditions, most tires degrade into relatively large particles that are not actually aerosolised. They end up on the road and get washed away by weather. The main place where they become a problem is in tunnels where the dry conditions and passing traffic keep picking them back up into the air.
Finally, brake pads. Electric hugely reduce brake wear due to regenerative braking. Most EV owners will tell you that they’ve never had to replace their brake pads!
That means 90% of cars particulate matter must be coming from tyres and the road surface. How far does this travel? Does it just fall back quickly onto the road? Does it get washed away in a rain storm?
Do you have a source for that 90% figure?
NOx in particular is a big problem in European cities due to the proliferation of diesel cars.
> ... Cutting annual mean concentration of particulate matter smaller than 10 μm (PM10) in China to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard (50 μg/m3) would move people from the median to the 63rd percentile (verbal test scores) and the 58th percentile (math test scores), respectively. The damage on the aging brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions.
That'd mean if you live in a city and have not had much education, it might be because you are less intelligent (on average). While if you're in a rural area, a lack of education might not mean anything, because you have less opportunity to get educated in general, regardless of intelligence.
If you did a simple regression in this case with years of education and air pollution (more common in cities) in the model, I think you'd find that -- controlling for education -- air pollution would be correlated with a reduction of intelligence, even if the air pollution itself wasn't causal.
There are ways of controlling for this, and I'm not at all saying the study didn't take this into account, but it'd be useful to know more. There are a lot of ways (as in any model) the relationship could be correlated without being causal.
edit: Actually, not 100% sure it's a nuclear power plant. Thanks for your comments
> The hyperboloid cooling towers are often associated with nuclear power plants, although they are also used in some coal-fired plants and to some extent in some large chemical and other industrial plants.
Direct link to the picture from the article https://www.unenvironment.org/sites/default/files/styles/art...
Example cooling towers from a coal-fired power plant https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-eon-scholven-power-station...
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torness_Nuclear_Power_Station
If it's inland or starved for water you need cooling towers.
It seems to be a coal station in China.
Somebody also mentioned that old decommissioned plants have their smelter quite radioactive and need to be handled accordingly. Can't find it now though...
Clearly a biased source (not necessarily bad though) but the data is likely accurate, make of it what you will.
> "To qualify as HEPA by industry standards, an air filter must remove (from the air that passes through) 99.97% of particles that have a size greater-than-or-equal-to 0.3 µm." 
Also, the obsession with HEPA and its 99.7% reduction of the relevant particles seems silly to me. For a filter that recirculates air, the relevant figure of merit is the rate at which dirty air is replaced with clean air, which is roughly the air flow through the filter times the efficiency. So a 90% efficient filter with 50% more airflow is better. For a stand-alone unit, the “clean air delivery rate” is a more sophisticated measurement.
You can do very well by upgrading your HVAC filter to MERV 13 or better and running the fan for a few hours a day. But check with an HVAC contractor before you change filter types — it may affect the overall performance of the system.
For an outside air intake, the efficiency does matter, and HEPA is a good idea.
I went looking, this seems like a pretty good air quality monitor: https://www.amazon.com/AirVisual-Quality-Monitor-Accuracy-Pa... (~$400)
There are cheaper ones too; but do your research, as accuracy (and ideas about what constitutes accurate) can vary from manuf. to manuf.
also apparently, a box fan + filter ain't so bad. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kH5APw_SLUU
I'm looking into buying an anti-pollution mask. It will probably look weird, since nobody wears masks there... People will probably think I'm sick or something. Maybe I should buy some techwear clothing to complete the "goth-ninja" look, but I'm not sure how that will fly at work.
I have an air purifier at home since 3 years (Philips AC4072/11). I think it's a good investment, since I spend around 50% of the time at home. It also seems to have helped with my allergies, but that might be placebo.
That being said, I recall reading an article where they said studied long term subway commuters and did not find health issues due to commuting.
Furthermore, you can apparently build an air filter for the fraction of the cost: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q45CkwKiOvw
 like the "3M Aura Particulate Respirator". There are also filter with activated charcoal
I feel like it's just another way to suggest causation without knowing that it is causation.
but can be used by weasels, so yes.