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Climate

The World’s Most Polluted Countries

On air quality, Ford’s pivot, and solar geoengineering

The World’s Most Polluted Countries
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Flash floods inundated parts of northern Iraq • Fire weather watches are in effect across several states, from Iowa to Maryland • Today marks the official start of spring.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Just 7 countries met WHO pollution limits in 2023

A region’s air should contain no more than 5 micrograms per cubic meter of the dangerous pollutant known as PM2.5, according to World Health Organization recommendations. In Bangladesh last year, the average concentration was 79.9 micrograms, making it the most polluted country in the world. Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, and Burkina Faso also had alarmingly high levels of PM2.5, which comes primarily from burning fossil fuels and is linked to 4 million premature deaths every year. The findings come from Swiss company IQAir, which uses 30,000 air quality monitors to understand pollution levels across the world. “The number of countries and regions with air quality monitoring has steadily increased over the past six years,” the company said in a press release.

IQAir

IQAir

In 2023 just seven countries had air quality that met the WHO guidelines: Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius, and New Zealand. Average PM2.5 concentration across the U.S. was 9.1 micrograms, and Columbus, Ohio, was the most polluted major city in America.

2. DOE expects geothermal boom by 2050

A report from the Department of Energy projects geothermal energy deployment in the U.S. will grow dramatically by 2050, so long as developers can bring down costs. The DOE says geothermal could account for up to a third of the additional clean energy the country will need by 2050 to hit President Biden’s emissions targets and meet growing electricity demand, E&E Newsexplained. Geothermal energy harnesses the heat from beneath the Earth’s surface for around-the-clock clean energy. Innovations in drilling technology are expected to bring the price of geothermal power down from $100 per megawatt-hour to as low as $60 per megawatt-hour by 2030, which would put it roughly in line with other energy sources, the DOE said. And new geothermal sites will need to be tapped: The report said 18 states will likely have geothermal operations by 2050, up from seven now.

3. Report: Ford pivoting to small EVs

Ford is reportedly “pivoting” from big electric vehicles to smaller, cheaper EVs in an attempt to keep up with Chinese manufacturers like BYD. Bloombergreported the company has put together a team to work on a new electric platform for its small EVs, with the first vehicle slated to arrive in 2026 and cost around $25,000. “Plans for an electric three-row SUV have been delayed,” Bloomberg added.

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  • 4. Saudi Aramco CEO says fossil fuel phase out is a ‘fantasy’

    In case you were wondering how things are going at CERAWeek, the big oil and gas conference taking place in Houston this week, Reutersreported that “top oil executives took to the stage … to vocally oppose calls for a quick move away from fossil fuels.” “We should abandon the fantasy of phasing out oil and gas, and instead invest in them adequately,” said Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco. His remarks were reportedly met with applause and echoed by leaders from Shell, Petrobras, and Exxon Mobil. Petrobras CEO Jean Paul Prates warned rushing the energy transition will create a “crisis that we will never forget.” Meg O’Neill, CEO of Woodside Energy, said the debate had become too “emotional,” and claimed the market for clean fuel technologies is some decades away. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm pushed back, pointing to projections showing oil and gas peaking demand by 2030, and called the transition “an undeniable, inevitable, and necessary realignment of the world’s energy system.”

    5. Harvard pulls the plug on solar geoengineering experiment

    Researchers at Harvard have abandoned a plan to conduct what would have been one of the first solar geoengineering experiments in the stratosphere. Solar geoengineering – also known as “solar radiation management” – involves reflecting sunlight back into space by spraying aerosols into the stratosphere in an attempt to cool temperatures on Earth. It has long been a somewhat fringe idea among scientific circles – a sort of option of last resort – but interest has grown as global emissions climb and the Earth gets hotter. While most solar geoengineering research has happened in labs, Harvard’s Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) was going to launch a high-altitude balloon to release aerosols and observe their behavior. But the project was controversial from the start and encountered multiple delays. In the end its lead investigator walked away. “The platform developed for SCoPEx is expected to be repurposed for basic scientific research in the stratosphere unrelated to solar geoengineering,” the university said in a statement.

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    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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