The New York Times: See How the World’s Most Polluted Air Compares With Your City’s

Article published: Dec 2, 2019

IB Economics syllabus: Microeconomics (market failure, negative externalities of production, sustainability, equity in the income distribution, economic development)

This is a fantastic and interactive article about air pollution – a global problem. As such, it touches upon multiple sections of our IB Economics syllabus, such as:

  • first, and foremost, market failure and the external costs of burning fossil fuels (which therefore leads to both a consumption and production externalities). As the article states, “PM2.5 can evade our bodies’ defenses, penetrating deep into the lungs and even entering the bloodstream. It has been shown to exacerbate asthma and other lung disorders, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
  • threats to sustainability “This fine pollution mainly comes from burning things: Coal in power plants, gasoline in cars, chemicals in industrial processes, or woody materials and whatever else ignites during wildfires.”
  • inequality questions (on a global scale): “Around the world, the poorest suffer most from unhealthy air.”
  • and economic development: “Developing and newly industrialized regions experience some of the worst particulate pollution today. […]

You can choose to have a look at the particle concentration values (this is how air pollution is measured) of most major cities for 2019. Moreover, the article discusses how climate change and the resultant spread of wildfires makes the problem ever harder to combat. However, it shows how Beijing, which used to have the worst air quality in the world has implemented policies to make air cleaner:

The country set strict limits on burning coal and implemented new emissions standards for power plants and heavy industry. It also banned the construction of new coal plants surrounding Beijing and other highly polluted areas and shut down some of the oldest, most polluting plants. Beijing, Shanghai and other large cities restricted the number of high-polluting vehicles on their roads and heavily subsidized electric buses.”

The air quality in New Delhi, on the other hand, is at a hazardous level. Even though during the days of the heaviest pollution, “the government temporarily halted all construction projects and restricted the number of cars on the road, requiring vehicles with odd- and even-numbered license plates to drive on alternate days,” it still has not solved this problem.

All in all, while this is definitely not an article that I’d suggest as a microeconomics IA, it gives you a great insight into the global nature of the problem and provides real-world examples that you can use effectively in your Paper 1 essay-based exam.

Source of image: “Forecasts for daily average particulate matter (PM 2.5) concentration in micrograms per cubic meter are from the ECMWF Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.”Accessed from The New York Times website.

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