Source: Joe Fenton
"Good up high, bad nearby," rhymes a helpful catchphrase for understanding ozone. High up in the atmosphere, our naturally occurring ozone layer works to protect us from UV radiation. But ground-level ozone, created from the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to smog and harms our hearts and lungs.
The recipe for "bad" ozone is fairly simple: mix pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes with heat and sunlight, and voila -- hazy skylines and poor urban air quality. During hot summer months when solar energy is more intense, ozone pollution forms more readily. In line with this observation, scientists expect future ozone concentrations to increase as temperatures rise from climate change.
A recent study shows that increases in climate-change-induced ozone will be costly -- not just for individuals who enjoy outdoor recreation, but for the U.S. economy as a whole. Even a slight increase in temperature by 2020 might lead to ozone spikes that could result in billions of dollars worth of asthma inhalers, hospital visits, days of school lost, and premature deaths.
Outside the U.S., municipalities like Mexico City; New Delhi, India; and Sao Paulo, Brazil are grappling with ozone problems, too. Unfortunately, the research shows that as temperatures rise, cities will have to implement more controls just to maintain present-day ozone levels, let alone achieve air quality improvements.
According to the study, the upside to the findings "is that both ozone pollution and climate change are fundamentally caused in large part by the same activities: human beings burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and run their vehicles." Clean and efficient energy sources that combat climate change also reduce ozone pollution -- they're a win for our planet and our health.
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