Study Links Carbon Dioxide Emissions to Mortality

A Stanford University scientist said he has outlined the direct links between increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increases in human mortality, using a state-of-the-art computer model of the atmosphere that incorporates scores of physical and chemical environmental processes.

According to Mark Jacobson, the new study details how, for each increase of 1 degree Celsius caused by carbon dioxide, the resulting air pollution would lead annually to about 1,000 additional deaths and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma in the United States. Worldwide, upward of 20,000 air-pollution-related deaths per year per degree Celsius may be due to this greenhouse gas, the researcher stated.

"This is a cause-and-effect relationship, not just a correlation," said Jacobson of his study, which on Dec. 24, 2007, was accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. "The study is the first specifically to isolate carbon dioxide's effect from that of other global-warming agents and to find quantitatively that chemical and meteorological changes due to carbon dioxide itself increase mortality due to increased ozone, particles and carcinogens in the air."

Jacobson said that the research has particular implications for California. This study finds that the effects of carbon dioxide's warming are most significant where the pollution is already severe. Given that California is home to six of the 10 U.S. cities with the worst air quality, the state is likely to bear an increasingly disproportionate burden of death if no new restrictions are placed on carbon dioxide emissions, according to the researcher.

Jacobson said his work stands apart from previous research in that it uses a computer model of the atmosphere that takes into account many feedbacks between climate change and air pollution not considered in previous studies. The model incorporates principles of gas and particle emissions and transport, gas chemistry, particle production and evolution, ocean and soil processes, and the atmospheric effects of rain, winds, sunlight, heat and clouds, among other factors.

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