Issue Brief – Clean, Renewable Energy and Lung Health

Download the RHA Issue Brief – Clean Renewable Energy and Health (December 2017)


Executive Summary

Our energy choices affect our quality of life.  Reliable, affordable access to energy raises a community’s quality of life, but so can the source of that energy. Production, distribution, and consumption of energy can all impact health. This is especially true with use of fossil fuels.  Emissions from burning fossil fuels can harm health directly and contribute to global warming, resulting in other indirect health risks.

Clean, renewable electricity has become increasingly commonplace and cost-effective and continues to grow and expand. With the clean, renewable technologies available today, we have the potential to decrease U.S. carbon emissions from electricity generation by more than 80 percent, and perhaps as much as 100 percent by 2050. We also have an opportunity to drastically reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with burning fossil fuels.

Increased use of clean, renewable energy, such as wind and solar-generated power, when combined with increased energy efficiency, can improve health both by reducing emissions that harm health directly and that increase global warming.  In other words, clean, renewable energy is not just an environmental issue, but a public health issue.

With this brief, RHA examines:

  • The different types of clean, renewable energy and their respective environmental impacts;
  • The health impacts of fossil fuel emissions;
  • The climate change impacts of fossil fuel emissions;
  • The economic impact based on health improvements from displacing fossil fuel energy generation with clean, renewable energy; and
  • The current state of clean, renewable energy generation in Illinois.


Date of Publication: December 2017

If you have questions or would like additional information about RHA’s clean air initiatives, please contact Brian Urbaszewski via email or by phone (312) 628-0245.

Green Vehicles

Download the Green Vehicles – What You Need to Know PDF.


Cars that are more efficient and less polluting than conventional fossil-fueled vehicles are often termed ‘green vehicles’. A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), and an all-electric vehicle (EV) are all examples of green vehicles that lead to cleaner air.1

What is the difference between a HEV, a PHEV, and an EV?

A HEV combines a gas- or diesel-powered engine, a small rechargeable battery and an electric motor. PHEVs have a larger battery, an electric drive motor and a gas- or diesel-powered engine. PHEVs can either run on electricity alone at speed up to >50 miles before switching to fuel, or can use fuel and electricity at the same time as the engine charges the battery.2 EVs operate using only a large battery and an electric motor.

What are the health benefits associated with driving green vehicles?

Air pollution can cause both immediate and long-term health problems. Short-term symptoms related to air pollution exposure include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and chest pain. Exposure may trigger asthma episodes as well. Long-term exposure to air pollution puts people at risk for lung disease, stroke, heart attacks, and premature death.3 Green vehicles reduce or eliminate the dangers of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and greenhouse gas pollution that cause immediate and long-term health problems.4 While green vehicles improve air quality and reduce global warming emissions, EVs offer the greatest health benefits because they emit no tailpipe emissions.

How far can a green vehicle travel?

HEVs and PHEVs have the same power and range as conventional vehicles. Newer EVs have a range of >100 miles, sufficient for 90% of all household vehicle trips in the U.S.5 Battery technology is advancing quickly and some EVs already boast a range of 200-300+ miles. EVs and PHEVs can be charged at home in a parking space or garage. Publicly available charging stations can also be found at

How much does an electric vehicle (EV) cost?

While EVs now have a higher upfront cost, the total cost of owning an EV is reduced by both lower fuel costs and maintenance costs. The cost of electricity is cheaper than gas and diesel in most states.6 Having fewer moving parts than gas or diesel engines leads to lower electric vehicle maintenance costs. At present, a federal tax credit can also significantly reduce the price of a new electric car. EV prices will continue to fall further due to the declining cost of batteries. Experts predict the cost of owning electric cars will be cost competitive with gas- or diesel-powered vehicles by 2020.7

The cost of an EV can be offset using federal and state tax credits and incentives. Find tax credits and incentives at

Search for available Green Vehicles at



1 “Learn About Green Vehicles.” EPA. February 23, 2017. Accessed July 19, 2017.
2 “How Do Plug-in Hybrid Electric Cars Work?” Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed July 26, 2017.
3 “Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health.” World Health Organization. September 2016. Accessed July 24, 2017.
4 Sovacool, Benjamin K. “A Transition to Plug-in Electric Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs): why public health professionals must care .” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2010: 185-187.
5 “All-Electric Vehicles.” Alternative Fuels Data Center: All-Electric Vehicles. April 3, 2017. Accessed July 19, 2017.
6 Yamauchi, Mia. “Driving on Electricity Is Cheaper Than Gas in All 50 States.” Plugless Power. Accessed July 19, 2017.
7 Hanley, Steve. “Electric Vehicle Battery Prices Are Falling Faster Than Expected.” CleanTechnica. February 13, 2017. Accessed July 19, 2017.

Issue Brief – Climate Change and Respiratory Health

Download the Issue Brief – Climate Change and Respiratory Health PDF.


As global warming accelerates, climate disruptions pose a serious and increasing threat to people with lung disease.

Executive Summary

The climate change issues that are expected to affect respiratory health include increases in:

  • Extreme weather events, including heat waves, extreme precipitation, and droughts
  • Wildfires and wildfire smoke
  • Particulate matter (soot)
  • Aeroallergens, including pollens, mold and fungus
  • Insect and water borne diseases
  • And higher levels of ground-level ozone (smog).

Caretakers and advocates for individuals with lung disease should familiarize themselves with these issues.

The public health response to climate change cannot merely be one of adaptation; the medical and public health communities need to be an active voice in broader climate policy discussions.

This paper serves as a brief primer on how climate change will affect lung health, with a focus on Illinois, and the policies aimed at mitigating further climate disruption.

Date of Publication: May 2016


For more information about climate change and respiratory health, contact Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Policy, via email at or by phone at (312) 628-0245.

Climate Change & Respiratory Health

Download the Climate Change & Respiratory Health – What You Need to Know PDF.


Science shows that an increase in average global temperature by more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels risks human health. Accelerating climate change poses a particular threat to people living with chronic disease, including respiratory issues like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allergies, emphysema, and lung cancer.

While nations work to reduce greenhouse gasses by 80 percent by 2050 in order to curb many of these health consequences, some effects are inevitable and persons living with respiratory disease and their caretakers will need to adapt to a changing climate.

Climate change factors affecting respiratory illness include more extreme weather events, more wildfires, higher levels of allergens, increased insect and water-borne diseases, and higher levels of air pollution.

Extreme Weather Events

Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of floods, droughts, heat waves, and blizzards. Extreme heat is projected to cause increased deaths and could lead to more frequent droughts. Climate change will not necessarily lead to warmer winters, but winters with more extreme blizzards. Increased precipitation will lead to more floods. Flooding can increase mold and fungi growth, which can exacerbate asthma and allergies. In addition to these direct harms, extreme weather events can physically limit people’s access to care, medical supplies, and necessary services.

Wildfire Smoke

Longer, hotter summers are leading to more wildfires. Wildfire smoke is worse for respiratory health than typical air particular matter; it can affect breathing conditions for hundreds of miles and increase respiratory hospital admissions.


Rising greenhouse gas concentrations are leading to plants producing more pollen each season and some plants and molds becoming more allergenic. Rising temperatures are also leading to longer pollen seasons. In addition, increased temperatures and humidity could increase building dampness and air conditioner usage, which can affect respiratory issues such as wheezing, asthma, and infections.


A warming climate will likely expand the range for diseases spread by insects and water. While the effect on respiratory health is uncertain, increased precipitation could lead to the spread of respiratory diseases such as hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome and legionnaires disease.

Air Pollution

Climate change is likely to increase ground-level ozone (smog) and particulate matter air pollution. These climate-driven changes could affect people with respiratory disease. Ground-level ozone can diminish lung function, increase hospital visits for asthma, and increase premature deaths. Wildfires and desertification are contributing to more airborne particulate matter. However, promoting clean power and cutting carbon pollution from dirty power plants could reduce many of the harmful air pollutants that contribute to smog. Such measures could result in almost immediate public health benefits and could ultimately prevent thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations due to heart and lung disease.

School Bus Idling

Download the School Bus Idling – What You Need to Know PDF.