Naomi Cohen-Shields’ senior thesis explores who benefits as China cleans its air

June 12, 2020

As part of a series exploring the disciplinary variety of 2020 senior thesis research, PEI writes about the work of Princeton student Naomi Cohen-Shields '20 on air pollution in China. Working under the advising of Prof. Denise Mauzerall, Cohen-Shields pursued research to understand whether China's extensive efforts to improve its air quality affected communities differently across regions and socioeconomic levels. 

Excerpted from the full story by Morgan Kelly:

Thesis adviser Denise Mauzerall, professor of civil and environmental engineering and public and international affairs and PEI associated faculty, said that Cohen-Shields in the end provided a comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of air pollution data out of China. But she also included an ethical component unique to this kind of research.

“She went beyond a traditional technical analysis to include an ethical analysis that was her own idea and explored the philosophical underpinnings of environmental justice,” said Mauzerall, who plans to help Cohen-Shields submit the paper to a peer-reviewed journal. “This is the first time that this kind of ethical component has been included in an analysis of Chinese air quality to my knowledge. China’s air pollution controls have helped everyone, but some have benefited more than others.”

Cohen-Shields said that her research suggests that the true health burden the poor in China experience due to pollution likely hides in provincial-level data. She hopes that researchers will build off of her work by examining how pollution is distributed within a province, then pair that data with concentrations of wealth and poverty. An analysis such as that could help guide policies aimed at simultaneously spurring economic growth and improving air quality, especially for those provinces that are the poorest and have the worst air quality.

Read the full story on PEI's website.