Saturday, March 17, 2012

Clean Air for a Healthy Economy and Asthma-Free Children

It is a Saturday morning here in Sweden and I am sitting in my office at the Gothenburg University School of Business, Economics and Law, waiting for a colleague in logistics who has invited me out to lunch. Since arriving here last weekend I have had many discussions on logistics, transportation, and sustainability (and have also given multiple talks).

Sustainability is part of Sweden´s DNA. As I walked this morning for two hours on the city streets, I continue to marvel at the trams flowing through the streets, the busses moving, along with the bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians (with a few cars thrown in) navigating the wide boulevard streets. The streets are lined with shops and many conveniences and it is a joy to explore this city.

As a store clerk said to me yesterday, "Gothenburg is the perfectly big city" and I agreed. It is, in fact, Sweden´s second biggest city, after Stockholm, where I have lived with my family. Gothenburg is situated on the sea. The air is very clean and, as someone who sleeps only a few hours a night back in the US, here I am certainly catching up and I attribute it partly to the quality of the air (and all the exercise that I am getting as just a natural part of living here, which is wonderful).

Back in Massachusetts, one of my colleagues at the Isenberg School of Management, Dr. Sylvia Brandt, who is a resource economist, has been getting a lot of attention due to an asthma study, and the quantified associated costs, that she was a lead investigator on.

Lynne Peeples, writing in the Huffington Post, in an article, "Childhood Asthma on the Rise as Political Battles Threaten EPA's Air Pollution Rules," notes how the number of asthma cases in the US has doubled since 1980 and now affects 1 out of 10 children. In the article, Brandt, whose daughter, Willow, has severe asthma, is quoted as saying: "Any person who would say that the EPA should be eliminated or its ability to regulate reduced, should have to sit in the emergency room holding the hand of a child who can't breathe."

Ironically, the beautiful, bucolic town of Amherst, Massachusetts neighbors the cities of Holyoke and Springfield, with the latter having several highways and the Pioneer Valley, in which we reside, and beyond, having to deal with the emissions from the coal-burning Mount Tom power plant.

According to Dr. Brandt: "The argument that the economy can't handle regulation is fundamentally flawed." Her published research quantified that the annual cost associated with an asthma case in a pair of California cities is 7 percent of the median household income, or about $4,000. "Our economy can't handle sick people. To have a healthy economy, we have to have a healthy population."

I fully and completely agree!