Georgia (the country): home to high mountains, and deadly air pollution

Georgia is a beautiful country: home to the highest mountain range in Europe, incredible views … and the deadliest air pollution levels in the world. As Vox reported, a new special report by the International Energy Agency examines air pollution levels around the world, and Georgia, an Eastern European nation with a population of just 3.7 million, is the worst offender in a rogues’ gallery of polluters.

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So where does the United States rank in comparison? Surprisingly, the U.S. ranks quite low on the list. This good news comes on the heels of an announcement at the  North American Leaders Summit that the United States, Canada, and Mexico would be partnering together to reduce carbon emissions, with a plan to generate half of North American energy from renewable sources by 2025.

The special report also comes two months after the World Resources Institute released a study finding that 21 nations, including the United States, had managed to achieve gains in gross-domestic product while also decreasing carbon emissions over the past 15 years. America’s “decoupling” of GDP and emissions was attributed largely to the gradual switch from coal to natural gas to generate electricity.

This reality doesn’t mean the U.S. is home to the cleanest air around. In fact, 50 percent of Americans live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution. So if a country where half of the citizens live in areas with unhealthy air pollution is ranked low on the IEA’s new list, what does this mean for other countries? Let’s take a look at some of the top polluters on the list: Georgia, Bulgaria, China, and India.

India recently announced plans to reduce emissions through increased use of electric vehicles, but this likely won’t help, for a few reasons. For one, India plans to double its coal output by 2020, and is currently dependent on coal for about two-thirds of its energy needs. Coal is one of the dirtiest fuels in the world, responsible for about 60 percent of sulfur-dioxide emissions,and known to cause not only respiratory illnesses but also acid rain. Yikes. And if countries like India decide to use coal to generate electricity for EVs, that likely won’t do much good to reduce emissions.

When countries use electric grids fueled by coal to generate electricity for EVs, it’s one step forward and two steps back. In fact, it can even cause more environmental pollution than a a regular gasoline car. Electric vehicles also are not widely adopted in the main polluting countries, so it’s unlikely that EVs will swoop in and save those citizens from deadly air pollution.

They, and we, need an effective and efficient solution now. We need fuel choice.

Fuel choice means opening up markets to alternative fuels like ethanol, methanol, and biofuels. In Georgia, one of the main reasons for its abysmal ranking is the increased use of diesel vehicles, and a reluctance to part with older cars. This makes it even more unlikely that Georgia will be able to switch to widespread EV adoption.

This is where fuel choice can make a difference: By converting existing fleets to run on alternative fuels, and opening up our markets to these fuels, we can move toward a world of less emissions, a world in which Georgia is known for its high mountain ranges, and not for its high levels of air pollution.

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