BYU economics professor tackles air pollution controversies

Ari Davis
Professor C. Arden Pope III emphasized the dangers of air pollution to the audience during a lecture in the SWKT. (Ari Davis)

Kimball Tower was filled with talk about air pollution and its effects as the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences hosted its 24th annual Martin B. Hickman Outstanding Scholar Lecture on March 9.

The speaker for this year’s lecture was economics professor C. Arden Pope III, who named his lecture “Air Pollution and Health: Top 10 Scientific and Public Policy Controversies.”

Pope has a long history of researching the effects of air pollution not only in the United States but also throughout the world. In 1995, he and several other prominent researchers released the “American Cancer Society CPS-II Cohort Study,” which stated the health risks brought on by the growing air pollution in the U.S.

Many pollution-related problems result from people breathing in “PM 2.5,” or fine particles. Those particles then become lodged in the arteries, according to Pope.

Health problems that result from pollution include deaths associated with respiratory and cardiovascular issues, hospitalizations and school absences due to illness.

Pope outlined 10 air pollution controversies that plague society today and discussed how cleaning up the air will ultimately save lives.

He showed how air pollution impacted the depictions of European cities in artwork, showing paintings by Monet in which the landscape is shown to be engulfed in smog.

He referenced events such as the “Great Smog of London” which occurred in 1952. This event caused the deaths of thousands of Londoners and was depicted in Netflix’s 2016 show, “The Crown.”

He said the number of hospitalizations due to respiratory-related illnesses dropped dramatically when Geneva Steel in Vineyard shut down for about a year, and then rose again when it reopened.

Pope then cycled through his explanation for each controversy while he cracked jokes and received laughs from the audience.

His lecture ultimately showed how even minor changes in air pollution can either increase or decrease the life expectancy of all those who breath air.

Pope also spoke on the economic ramifications of cleaning up air pollution. He illustrated how the costs of improving air quality were greatly outweighed by its benefits.

He concluded his lecture with research showing how clean air contributes to “economic prosperity, human well-being and improved public health.”

Following the lecture, one student asked whether air cleanup was a luxury of wealthier nations. Pope said though it was easier for wealthier nations, it is still needed everywhere.

“Go to northern India and ask a child what color the sky is, and they will say grey or brown,” Pope said.

BYU economics student Devon Page went to the lecture for a class assignment. Page walked away in awe at Pope’s remarks.

“I thought it was amazing,” Page said. “Not only did it cover interesting points, but I thought that the presentation was very well done. It was very engaging and entertaining.”

The economics department chair, Mark Showalter, introduced Pope to the audience and said he was very impressed by the ideas presented at the lecture. Showalter said Pope’s research is influential and carefully done.

“The example he has set for the effect of great research on making a better planet, I think there aren’t very many other examples I can think of,” Showalter said.

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