Volts podcast: David Wallace-Wells on the ravages of air pollution
It's real bad. Arguably worse than climate change.
Back in 2020, I wrote an article about some eye-popping new research on air pollution which found that the damage it is doing to human health is roughly twice as bad as previously thought, and moreover, that the economic benefits of pollution reduction vastly outweigh the costs of transitioning to clean energy.
It seemed to me then that the findings should have gotten more attention in the press, and I wasn't the only person who thought so. Journalist David Wallace-Wells, who made a splash a few years ago with his terrifying book on climate change, The Uninhabitable Earth, also dove in to new air pollution research and produced a magisterial overview for the London Review of Books last year. Recently he revisited the subject for his New York Times newsletter, asking why social mobilization against climate change, which promises millions of deaths in decades, is so much greater than mobilization against air pollution, which kills 10 million a year today.
It's a challenging question, and I'm not certain I have a great answer, so I wanted to talk to David about it — what the new research says about the mind-boggling scope and scale of air pollution’s damage to human welfare, how we ought to think about it relative to climate change, and what scares him most about the process of normalization that allows us to live with 10 million deaths a year.