Speaking Truth to Congress

We could avoid about 4.5 million premature deaths, 3.5 million hospitalizations and 300 million lost workdays in the United States over the next 50 years by cutting fossil fuel emissions to a point that Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t warm more than 2oC.

That’s the take-away of the testimony Drew Shindell, Nicholas Distinguished Professor of Earth Science, presented to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Aug. 5. 

Shindell presented new research data showing that taking action sooner than later to cut emissions – which contribute to air pollution as well as climate change – will yield larger and more immediate benefits than policymakers and scientists previously thought.

“The avoided deaths are valued at more than $37 trillion. The avoided health care spending due to reduced hospitalizations and emergency room visits exceeds $37 billion, and the increased labor productivity is valued at more than $75 billion. On average, this amounts to more than $700 billion per year in benefits to the U.S. from improved health and labor alone,” he told the committee.

Although it does not appear on death certificates, air pollution is indirectly responsible for a substantial fraction of heart and respiratory diseases, including strokes, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he said. “If the world were on a 2ºC trajectory, 40% of the deaths in the United States attributable to air pollution could be eliminated by 2030. Air pollution responds immediately to emissions reductions. Action now means benefits now.”

This was the sixth time since 2004 Shindell has been invited to testify before Congress on climate issues. He presented his August testimony remotely due to Covid-19 safety precautions.

Widely respected by policymakers on both sides of the political aisle, he was coordinating lead author of both the 2018 and 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and has published more than 250 papers on climate change and its impacts.