Air Pollution and Health

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas, generates electricity and powers our vehicles, but it is also the leading contributor to air pollution and powerful greenhouse gas emissions. Air pollutants and greenhouse gases generated by these activities have adverse impacts on human health and also trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, leading to climate change.

Our faculty, postdocs, students, and other research collaborators conduct policy-relevant scientific studies and link them with economic analyses to understand environmental benefits and tradeoffs ("co-benefits") of various options. Our goal is to provide policy recommendations to governments that have the dual benefits of improving air quality while mitigating the human causes of climate change. In particular, we focus on opportunities within the energy and agricultural sectors that provide reductions in emissions while simultaneously improving transportation and heating options, public health, and food security. Our research informs policy action in the world’s top four largest emitters of greenhouse gases: China, the United States, the European Union, and India.

Related News

A Clean Energy Transition is Possible for China’s Manufacturing Industry
June 21, 2023
Written by Glen Chua and Keely Swan, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment

The industrial sector – made up of businesses that support processing raw materials for manufacturing and consumer goods – is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and one that has proven difficult to decarbonize. In China, much of the industrial sector is organized into ‘parks’ that have been zoned as areas for concentrated…

UK Substantially Underestimates its Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Production – and Many Other Countries Probably Do Too
Jan. 26, 2023
Written by Glen Chua and Keely Swan, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment

Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, contributing about 1 degree Fahrenheit of present-day global warming relative to pre-industrial times. One major source of methane to the atmosphere is the extraction and transport of oil and gas. Countries are obligated to report their greenhouse gas emissions to…

Supreme Court Limits EPA’s Ability to Regulate CO2
June 30, 2022

In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The decision for the case, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency

As China Converts to Clean Energy, Households Should Consider Using Heat Pumps to Maximize Climate, Air Quality, Economic, and Health Benefits
Jan. 4, 2022
Written by B. Rose Huber, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Many of China’s households still rely on small coal stoves for heat, which causes air pollution that damages health. To address these problems, the Chinese government launched a five-year “Clean Heating Plan” in 2017 with the goal of transitioning 70% of northern households away from coal and toward cleaner heating options.

As the plan…

Tackling Climate Change’s Most Complex Phenomena
Nov. 9, 2021
Written by Riis L. Williams

A new partnership between Princeton University’s Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment (C-PREE) and the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) is pairing students and researchers to work on solutions to today…

Q&A with Prof. Geeta Persad PhD '16
Nov. 17, 2020
Written by Supriya Singh, Class of 2023

Geeta Persad completed her PhD in Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies from Princeton in 2016. She was selected for an HMEI-STEP Graduate Fellowship, which allowed her to pursue the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy certificate at the School of Public and International Affairs.

Addressing humanity’s environmental challenges
Oct. 15, 2020
Written by Office of Communications

Environmental challenges have galvanized activity across Princeton’s campus in recent years like few other issues in our history. From physical, biological and applied sciences to art, architecture, psychology, policy and more, research groups across the University are tackling some of the toughest problems facing humanity with the fullest range of toolkits.

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. 

Coronavirus shutdowns clear the air, temporarily
May 1, 2020

Prof. Denise Mauzerall speaks with PhysicsToday about the importance of studying air pollution data during the coronavirus lockdown to better understand the sources of pollution.

The COVID-19 Lockdown Can Help Devise Measures to Mitigate Air Pollution
April 4, 2020
Written by Disha Sharma

COVID-19 has cast a global gloom by causing severe damage to health, the economy and general societal well-being. Temporarily, clean air provides some respite while a major portion of the world population remains indoors, abiding by social distancing norms. In India too, after many years, the blue sky can be spotted in normally hazy regions, as corroborated by satellite images, pollution data, and social media posts. However, the present air quality (AQ) improvement in India dwells in irony. Amidst the devastating COVID-19 crisis, it is neither the time to rejoice clean air nor would one want air quality to improve this way in the future.

Related People

Glen Chua
HMEI-STEP Fellow 2021, Doctoral Candidate
Divyansh Chug
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Janet Currie
Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs
Xiangwen Fu
STEP Ph.D. Student
Shangwei Liu
Postgraduate Research Associate
Denise L. Mauzerall
William S. Tod Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Public and International Affairs
Malini Nambiar
STEP Ph.D. Student
Wei Peng
Assistant Professor of Public and International Affairs and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
Matthew Sima
HMEI-STEP Fellow 2023
Yujie Wu
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Yuanyu Xie
Associate Research Scholar
Jerry Zee
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and High Meadows Environmental Institute