Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Breathing Freely

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Breathing Freely

Article excerpt

Humans have been creating air pollution since we first learned how to use fire. More than a thousand years ago, when the Chinese discovered black stones that burned slower than wood and gave off heat, however, our ability to foul the air increased by orders of magnitude.

Since the oil boom of 1859, we have spewed the byproducts of fossil fuels into our atmosphere in ever-increasing amounts, with little regard of the potential consequences. In 1955, Congress finally recognized air pollution as a serious national hazard with the passage of the Air Pollution Control Act, and fossil fuel use was recognized as the greatest contributor to poor air quality.

Air pollution's potentially negative long-term effects on the environment--global warming, for example--often fuel heated debate among scientists. According to scientific evidence, the negative effects of air pollution on the human body is less disputable, however, says Jonathan Samet of Johns Hopkins University. Recent scientific evidence regarding the effects of fossil-fuel-related pollution on human health has forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue new standards on specific pollutants, such as particulate matter, says Samet.

Additionally, Samet explores science's role in the air pollution debate through an examination of epidemiological studies on the effects of air pollution on public health. After examining the degree of certainty in these studies, Samet believes there is sufficient evidence to support additional regulation. Samet argues, however, that science's primary role in the air pollution debate is simply to present the evidence of air pollution's health hazards, not to argue for political, societal, and economic changes; those changes should be left to the policymakers.

Human beings are frequently resistant to change, and nowhere is that resistance more evident than in our driving habits. Randal O'Toole, a senior economist at the Thoreau Institute, believes that humans, rather than giving up environmentally damaging--and potentially fatal--attachments to their polluting vehicles, would choke to death first.

O'Toole says the regulatory approach alone cannot, and has nor, sufficiently reduced tailpipe emissions. …

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