Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 9.07.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-24 at 9.07.26 PM

On this 40th anniversary month of the passing of the U.S. Clean Air Act, Michael Greenstone (Milton Friedman professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and head of the the Energy Policy Institute there)  “re-examines the vast difference the law has already made in the quality of the air we breathe, and in the length of our lives,” and “provides new estimates that the gains are greater than what was expected due to the improvement in air quality since 1970 — based on observations from the current “smog capital” of the world, China.”

Greenstone explains how as a result of the Clean Air Act, “the average person from Los Angeles lives about 1.8 years longer. Residents of New York and Chicago have gained about 2 years on average. With more than 42 million people currently living in these three metropolitan areas, the total gains in life expectancy add up quickly.” Greenstone shows how smaller industrial areas had the greatest improvement.  “In 1970, the Weirton, W.Va.–Steubenville, Ohio, metropolitan area had particulate concentrations similar to current-day Beijing. A child born there today can expect to live about 5 years longer than one born in 1970.”

Concluding in this column, Greenstone says,
“The hundreds of millions of life-years saved from improved air quality in our country didn’t happen by accident or overnight. This happened because a collective voice for change brought about one of the most influential laws of the land. As the United States and other nations continue to debate the costs of environmental regulation, they can do so with the knowledge that the benefits can be substantial. As proof, we need look no further than the five extra years residents of Weirton-Steubenville are living and the hundreds of millions of years gained by Americans throughout the nation.” The New York Times (Michael Greenstone). Read it on

The Connection Between Cleaner Air and Longer Lives