Air-Pollution Knowledge Is Power

Article by Chana R. Schoenberger: “What happens when people in countries where the government offers little pollution monitoring learn that the air quality is dangerous? A new study details how the US Embassy in Beijing began to monitor the Chinese capital’s air-pollution levels and tweet about them in 2008. The program later extended to other US embassies in cities around the world. The practice led to a measurable decline in air pollution in those cities, few of which had local pollution monitoring before, the researchers found.

The paper’s authors, Akshaya Jha, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and Andrea La Nauze, a lecturer at the School of Economics at the University of Queensland, used satellite data to compare pollution levels, measured annually. The researchers found that the level of air pollution went down after the local US embassy began tweeting pollution numbers from monitoring equipment that diplomatic personnel had installed.

The embassy program yielded a drop in fine-particulate concentration levels of 2 to 4 micrograms per square meter, leading to a decline in premature mortality worth $127 million for the median city in 2019. “Our findings point to the substantial benefits of improving the availability and salience of air-quality information in low- and middle-income countries,” Jha and La Nauze write.

News coverage of the US government’s Beijing pollution monitoring sparked the researchers’ interest, La Nauze says. At the time, American diplomats were quoted saying that the embassy’s tweets led to marked changes in pollution levels in Beijing. When the researchers learned that the US State Department had extended the program to embassies around the world, they thought there might be a way to evaluate the diplomats’ claims empirically.

A problem the researchers confronted was how to quantify the impact of measuring something that had never been measured before…(More)” – See also: US Embassy Air-Quality Tweets Led to Global Health Benefits