The nation has seen tremendous improvement in air quality over the last 50 years, thanks to the Clean Air Act. However, the unfortunate truth is that too many Americans still live with air that is unhealthy to breathe, and the climate crisis is threatening to undo the progress we have made.
Our energy sources—from the way that we heat, cool and power our homes and businesses, to how we travel—play an important role in air quality. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, gasoline and diesel emits toxic air pollution, and releases greenhouse gases, which drive climate change. Climate change not only directly endangers our health, but it also makes it more difficult to clean up harmful ozone and particle pollution.
Transitioning away from dirty, polluting energy sources to clean energy is absolutely critical to protect the health of all Americans, now and for generations to come. It’s time to call on cities, states and our federal government to make clean, non-combustion renewables the norm.
How Climate Change Harms Air Quality
- Increased temperatures lead to additional ground-level ozone pollution.
- More intense and frequent wildfires result in spikes in particle pollution.
- More intense and frequent flood events create conditions for mold and contaminants.
Understanding Types of Clean Energy
Two of the safest and most common renewable energy resources include solar and wind energy. But how do they work?
Wind energy is created with wind turbines—which are placed anywhere with high speed winds —from hilltops to open water for offshore wind. Using wind to produce energy has fewer effects on the environment than many other energy sources because wind turbines have no direct air pollution emissions and they do not require water for cooling. The nation’s use of wind energy has grown dramatically over the past 30 years. Wind energy accounts for more than seven percent of U.S. energy generation, and advances in technology have greatly decreased costs.
Solar energy uses solar cells—or photovoltaic (PV) cells—made from silicon or other materials that transform sunlight into electricity. Solar energy systems don’t produce air pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions, although some emissions may be released during the manufacturing process. There have also been dramatic improvements in harnessing solar energy—reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Solar energy supplies nearly two percent of U.S. electricity generation. Forty percent of all new electricity generating capacity added in the U.S. in early 2020 was solar.
Important note on biomass: Some consider burning biomass for energy as a source of renewable energy, but the American Lung Association is opposed to combustion of biomass and municipal solid waste because of possible air pollution. These sources create particle pollution and other carcinogens that endanger health. Decades of research show that burning fuels or materials to produce electricity creates pollutants that trigger asthma attacks and heart attacks, cause cancer, shorten lives and other harmful health impacts.
Why Change Matters
Switching to clean energy is an essential step to ensuring healthy air for all Americans.
Air pollution—made worse by climate change—is unhealthy for everyone to breathe. Breathing polluted air contributes to an increase in health problems including asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory and cardiovascular harm, reproductive harm, lung cancer, and early death. Some groups are particularly at risk—including children, older adults, communities of color, and those with existing health issues.
Using non-combustion renewable energy sources reduces air pollution dramatically and limits climate change-fueling greenhouse gas emissions.
Aside from protecting health, it also makes practical sense. Switching to renewable energy sources is a great way to reduce dependence on imported fuels, create local jobs, and increase cost efficiency. Increasingly around the country, renewable energy is cost-competitive with energy from fossil fuels.
Clean energy is also on the rise. Over 200 cities have adopted 100 percent clean power targets, and many have already achieved this goal. The U.S. Energy Information Agency projects that non-hydropower renewable energy sources will grow by 17% next year as the electric power sector continues expanding solar and wind capacity.
Stand Up with Us
For years, the American Lung Association has advocated for the protection of all people from the harm of air pollution. We support local, state and federal policies that encourage the use of the cleanest and most fuel-efficient energy resources and technologies. Such policies should promote the use of non-combustion renewable energy, low carbon fuels (measured on a lifecycle basis), expanded transmission and smart grid technologies, alternative forms of transportation, infrastructure, and energy storage.
We need the Clean Air Act to remain intact and enforceable so that we have all the tools in our toolbox when it comes to fighting air pollution. Please help us work toward a brighter future by taking a stand today.
Blog last updated: August 21, 2023