The air quality Californians are enjoying during the stay-at-home order could one day be the status quo, if the state follows the instructions of a UCLA study published Monday.
The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, offers a road map to state and local policymakers for California to use existing policies and technologies to drastically decrease greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by 2050, according to Yifang Zhu, one of the study's lead authors and a professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
"It doesn't need to take a global pandemic to create cleaner air and healthier lives," said Zhu.
"Climate action directly benefits people at a local and regional scale by creating cleaner air. The public health benefits are both immediate and long-term, and we can save the economy billions each year."
Researchers conducted the study using modeling to analyze how ambient air quality would change in a carbon-neutral state, then they combined the model with data and information to estimate how it would impact public health.
According to the study, a carbon-neutral California is possible and it would save about 14,000 lives per year, as well as reduce acute respiratory symptoms in over 8 million adults, reduce asthma exacerbation in 1 million children, and decrease cardiovascular hospital admissions by 4,500.
The state's most vulnerable residents would benefit the most from the increased air quality, with 35% of avoided deaths coming from the top 25% most-polluted areas, the study finds.
Carbon neutrality would also have economic benefits in California, the study finds. The number of lost workdays would decrease by over 1 million a year, and "the monetary savings of greenhouse gas reductions will exceed the cost by $109 billion a year."
The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that human-caused emissions need to be reduced to nearly zero, with remaining emissions captured, in order to limit the rise in global temperature to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and avoid the most severe effects of global warming.
The study was partially funded by UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which aims to apply UCLA expertise and research to "transform Los Angeles into the most sustainable megacity" by 2050, according to a university official.