Posts tagged with "Bora Ozaltun"

Covid and health illustration

Environmental Effects × COVID-19

MIT Sloan School of Management study shows potential long-term environment effects from COVID-19 and the findings show a decrease in clean energy investment could exacerbate health crisis

While the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced air pollution in the U.S., the longer-term impact on the environment is unclear. In a recent study, MIT Sloan School of Management Prof. Christopher Knittel and Prof. Jing Li analyzed the short- and long-term effects, finding that the actual impact will depend on the policy response to the pandemic. Their study suggests that pushing back investments in renewable electricity generation by one year could outweigh the emission reductions and deaths avoided from March through June 2020.

“The pandemic raises two important questions related to the environment. First, what is the short-run impact on fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions? Second – and more important but harder to answer – what are the longer-term implications from the pandemic on those same variables? The health impacts from the pandemic could stretch out for decades if not centuries depending on the policy response,” says Knittel.

In their study, the researchers analyzed the short-term impact of the pandemic on CO2 emissions in the U.S. from late March to June 7, 2020. They found a 50% reduction in the use of jet fuel and a 30% reduction in the use of gasoline. The use of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings declined by almost 20% and overall electricity demand declined by less than 10%. However, the professors point out that the shutdown also halted most investment in the transition to low-carbon energy. In addition, clean energy jobs decreased by almost 600,000 by the end of April.

“The short-term impact of the pandemic is clear, but the long-term impact is highly uncertain,” says Li. “It will depend on how long it takes to bring the pandemic under control and how long any economic recession lasts.”

The best-case scenario, according to the researchers, is a swift and low-cost strategy to control the virus, allowing the economy to reopen by the end of 2020. In this scenario, investment trends prior to the pandemic will continue.

“Unfortunately, we view a second scenario as more likely,” notes Knittel. “In this scenario, the consequences of the pandemic will be greater, with many more deaths and deeper disruptions to supply chains, and a persistent global recession. The need to backpedal on the reopening of the economy due to flare-ups could destroy rather than defer the demand for goods and services.”

In this scenario, the delays in investments in renewables and vehicle fuel economy could lead to an additional 2,500 MMT of CO2 from 2020-2035, which could cause 40 deaths per month on average or 7,500 deaths during that time.

“Our findings suggest that even just pushing back all renewable electricity generation investments by one year would outweigh the emissions reductions and avoided deaths from March to June of 2020. However, the energy policy response to COVID-19 is the wild card that can change everything,” they wrote in an article for Joule.

Li explains that budgets will be strained to pay for the costs of the virus, making it challenging to invest in clean energy. And if a recession persists, there may be pressure to lessen climate change mitigation goals. However, stimulus packages could focus on clean energy, increasing clean air, clean jobs, and national security.

“Just stabilizing the economy can go a long way to putting clean energy trends back on track. We need to solve the pandemic and continue to address climate change. Otherwise, it will lead to even more tragedy,” adds Knittel.

Li and Knittel are coauthors of “The short-run and long-run effects of COVID-19 on energy and the environment” with Kenneth Gillingham and Marten Ovaere of Yale University and Mar Reguant of Northwestern University. Their paper was published in a June issue of Joule.

Covid and health illustration

MIT COVID-19 Research

Why does the coronavirus kill some Americans, while leaving others relatively unscathed?

A new study by researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management sheds light on that question. The study, by Christopher R. Knittel, the George P. Shultz Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan, and Bora Ozaltun, a Graduate Research Assistant in the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) lab, correlates COVID-19 death rates in the U.S. states with a variety of factors, including patients’ race, age, health and socioeconomic status, as well as their local climate, exposure to air pollution, and commuting patterns.

The findings have important implications for determining who is most at risk of dying from the virus and for how policymakers respond to the pandemic.
Using linear regression and negative binomial mixed models, the researchers analyzed daily county-level COVID-19 death rates from April 4 to May 27 of this year. Similar to prior studies, they found that African Americans and elderly people are more likely to die from the infection relative to Caucasians and people under the age of 65. Importantly, they did not find any correlation between obesity rates, ICU beds per capita, or poverty rates.

“Identifying these relationships is key to helping leaders understand both what’s causing the correlation and also how to formulate policies that address it,” says Prof. Knittel.

“Why, for instance, are African Americans more likely to die from the virus than other races? Our study controls for patients’ income, weight, diabetic status, and whether or not they’re smokers. So, whatever is causing this correlation, it’s none of those things. We must examine other possibilities, such as systemic racism that impacts African Americans’ quality of insurance, hospitals, and healthcare, or other underlying health conditions that are not in the model, and then urge policymakers to look at other ways to solve the problem.”

The study, which has been released as a Center for Energy and Environmental Policy working paper and is in the process of being released as a working paper on medRxiv, a preprint server for health sciences, contains additional insights about what does, and does not, correlate with COVID-19 death rates. For instance, the researchers did not find a correlation between exposure to air pollution. This finding contradicts earlier studies that indicated that coronavirus patients living in areas with high levels of air pollution before the pandemic were more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner parts of the country.

According to Prof. Knittel, the “statistical significance of air pollution and mortality from COVID-19 is likely spurious.”

The researchers did, however, find that patients who commute via public transportation are more likely to die from the disease relative to those who telecommute. They also find that a higher share of people not working, and thus not commuting, have higher death rates.

“The sheer magnitude of the correlation between public transit and mortality is huge, and at this point, we can only speculate on the reasons it increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outcomes,” says Prof. Knittel. “But at a time when many U.S. states are reopening and employees are heading back to work, thereby increasing ridership on public transportation, it is critical that public health officials zero in on the reason.”

The proportion of Americans who have died from COVID-19 varies dramatically from state to state. The statistical models that Knittel and Ozaltun created yield estimates of the relative death rates across states, after controlling for all of the factors in their model. Death rates in the Northeast are substantially higher compared to other states. Death rates are also significantly higher in Michigan, Louisiana, Iowa, Indiana, and Colorado. California’s death rate is the lowest across all states.

Curiously, the study found that patients who live in U.S. counties with higher home values, higher summer temperatures, and lower winter temperatures are more likely to die from the illness than patients in counties with lower home values, cooler summer weather, and warmer winter weather. This implies that social distancing policies will continue to be necessary in places with hotter summers and colder winters, according to the researchers.

“Some of these correlations are baffling and deserve further study, but regardless, our findings can help guide policymakers through this challenging time,” says Ozaltun. “It’s clear that there are important and statistically significant difference in death rates across states. We need to investigate what’s driving those differences and see if we can understand how we might do things differently.”