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Experts: The orange sky changes nothing in the United States

Experts: The orange sky changes nothing in the United States

For days, thick orange smoke has hung over New York City, obscuring the city’s well-known skyline, and famous landmarks like the Empire State Building are barely visible. According to an index that measures polluted air, where 100 means bad air and 500 is the maximum level, New York has reached over 300 — compared to Jakarta, for example, one of the most polluted cities in the world, which was at the level around 150.

The levels in New York were historic and made big news. Residents, who have breathed in the worst air in the world for a few days, have been urged to stay indoors if possible, and a million N95 masks have been distributed. He suffered many symptoms such as headache, nausea and breathing problems. But is smog-ridden New York a wake-up call?

Robert Stavins, Professor at Harvard University’s Center for Environmental Economics. Bild: Harvard University

There won’t be any major shift in public opinion, because politics around climate change is incredibly polarized in the United States. As a result of this week’s New York air, there may be a slight grassroots change among those on the right of center who live in the area, perhaps even becoming less skeptical of climate change than before. But in Washington, D.C., climate change efforts are suffering because of the strong polarization in US politics, says Robert Stavins, a professor at Harvard University’s Center for Environmental Economics.

Pressure on Joe Biden

Leading Democrats like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have taken to social media this week to pressure the Biden administration to do more — will it happen?

No, it certainly won’t be. In Congress, it wouldn’t make any difference. The Biden administration has already managed to get the biggest climate policy possible through the Structure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. It is not possible for them to go any further, says Robert Stavins.

Amy Jaffe is an energy and climate expert at New York University’s School of Professional Studies.

– New York State has been particularly proactive when it comes to climate change, when it comes to, for example, supporting “clean technology” and adhering to strict regulations. For example, they are trying to get fewer people to take their car into town. This week’s bad weather is showing people what the consequences will be if we don’t act fast enough. New York already has exhaust gases and air pollution, and the smoke from Canada has added to that, so she can convince more people that New York needs to be more aggressive when it comes to reducing traffic, she says.

Amy Jaffe is an energy and climate expert at New York University's School of Professional Studies.  Image: Click on the image

Amy Jaffe is an energy and climate expert at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Image: Click on the image

New York has bad air for a few days and it becomes global news, while people in cities like Jakarta and New Delhi live with this problem every single day. What do you think that?

– There is air pollution in the United States, and it is not as bad as in Beijing or Mumbai, but Los Angeles had big problems with this. The state of California has done a lot to address this, and the fact is that the United States is ahead of many other countries. When we go to the climate change conference in November, it is very much about having a dialogue with countries like India where they must achieve the same goals that we are committed to in the USA and Europe. Their air is not making the news because their governments are not doing enough. On the other hand, what happened in New York this week will be news because we’re already doing an incredible amount to tackle air pollution, says Amy Jaffe.

Sumi Mehta is Vice President of Environment, Climate and Urban Health at Vital Strategies, a global health organization.

Sumi Mehta is Vice President of Environment, Climate and Urban Health at Vital Strategies.  Image: Click on the image

Sumi Mehta is Vice President of Environment, Climate and Urban Health at Vital Strategies. Image: Click on the image

– I think a lot of people were shocked that this happened in New York, but it happens regularly in cities around the world. In some places, people are unfortunately used to air pollution, so I hope more people open their eyes to this problem now, she says.

“People in New York are suddenly worried.”

According to Sumi Mehta, greater cooperation is needed between different regions and countries.

– New York has had impressive momentum in terms of air quality improvement in recent years, for example measuring air quality and delivering it to its residents. But work on improvement could be quickly eliminated if pollution arrived from other places, as is the case now.

Do you think more people are becoming aware of air pollution after this week’s events?

– I totally believe in that. You see, people in New York suddenly became anxious when they first saw smoke in the air. This makes many people want to know more. Seven million people die every year from air pollution and we must accelerate the process towards better air quality around the world.

Also read: Fire smoke from Canada drifts over New York

Also read: Fire smoke provides an air warning to millions of Americans

Also read: Environment Test Week 23: 7 questions about the past week

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