Most would assume that we’ve gotten at least a little better at decreasing our environmental impact. Many people carry around reusable bags and water bottles. Most coffee shops provide paper straws and recyclable cups. Cars are becoming more efficient, and the use of rideshare apps and carpooling has increased. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 100,000 Americans die “prematurely” each year from illnesses related to air pollution.
According to a 2019 report by the American Lung Association, air pollution in the U.S. is starting to increase after years of decreased pollution, with particulate pollution and ground-level ozone pollution increasing from 2015 to 2017. The cause of the increases can’t be pinned on specific human causes, but is instead credited as yet another side effect of climate change. Researchers believe the increase is mainly due to increased temperatures and natural disasters like wildfires.
The increased pollution is specifically targeted in a few specific parts of the country, such as Los Angeles and Central Valley in California — areas that have a reputation for smog. These areas have been particularly impacted by the numerous wildfires of the past year, which have deeply compromised air quality.
And things may soon get even worse due to the current politics of climate regulation. In June, President Donald Trump claimed “we have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it’s gotten better since I’m president.” But under the Trump administration, the priority of air quality has actually decreased significantly. In October 2017, the administration announced its plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan — a plan created under Obama to decrease gas emissions and pollution from power plants — and to begin what’s likely to be a two-year process of cutting back the regulation of auto emissions.
Those decreases in emissions regulation will only add to the increased negative effects of climate change on air quality.