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Environmental Justice Consequences of Transportation Choices

Ines Azevedo, Sally Benson, and Adam Brandt, Energy Resources Engineering

The transportation sector currently accounts for close to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S and nearly 15% globally, making it a crucial sector for addressing climate change. Furthermore, tailpipe emissions from transportation are a leading contributor to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is associated with large health and environmental damages. The Global Burden of Disease estimates that the chronic exposure to PM2.5 kills four million people annually, making it the 5th leading cause of death. Accordingly, there is the potential for large health, environmental and climate change benefits from moving towards sustainable transportation strategies. However, the magnitude of these benefits will depend on (i) where, when and how vehicles/transportation modes are used; (ii) the types of transportation mode and fuel; (iii) and the types of technologies and fuels being displaced as new transportation technologies are adopted.

With this seed funding we will work to develop an integrated assessment framework that will be applied to study the health, environmental and climate change effects of transportation strategies using an environmental justice lens, with a focus on the U.S., China and India. We will use an interdisciplinary approach that will combine life-cycle analysis, engineering simulation (of both transportation technologies and the power sector), and social sciences models to compute the net, life-cycle health, environmental and climate change monetized damages associated with different transportation strategies. Specific technologies assessed will include gasoline and diesel, ethanol, different types of electrified vehicles (hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, battery electric vehicles), fuel cell vehicles, and natural gas-powered vehicles.

The longer term goal of this project will be to summarize the data acquired in an online user-friendly tool that will display the health, environmental and climate change damages associated with different vehicle technology choices that can inform the decisions of policy makers and consumers to actuate the most environmental and climate change benefits.

Awarded 2019