Protecting Life and Lung: Protected Areas Affect Fine Particulate Matter and Respiratory Hospitalizations in the Brazilian Amazon Biome

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Abstract

There is growing recognition of the connection between ecosystem conservation and human health. For example, protection of tropical forests can affect the spread of infectious diseases, water quality, and dietary diversity, while forest loss can have important consequences for respiratory health due to the use of fire for converting land to alternative uses in many countries. Studies demonstrating links between ecosystems and health often conclude with recommendations to expand policies that protect natural ecosystems. However, there is little empirical evidence on the extent to which conservation policies actually deliver health benefits when they are implemented in real contexts. We estimate the effects of protected areas (PAs), the dominant type of conservation policy, on hospitalizations for respiratory illness in the Brazilian Amazon biome. We find that doubling upwind PAs reduces PM2.5 by 10% and respiratory hospitalizations by 7% in the months of most active biomass burning. Brazil has an extensive network of PAs, but investments in management and enforcement have declined in recent years. Forest fires have increased dramatically over the same period. We estimate that the value of the health benefits exceed current average expenditures on PA management for the 1/3 of PAs with the largest local populations, although not for PAs in more remote locations. Our findings highlight how quantifying the contributions to the wellbeing of local populations can support conservation objectives, even if global environmental benefits are not a high priority for decision makers.

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Sheehan, D., Mullan, K., West, T. A. P., & Semmens, E. O. (2024). Protecting Life and Lung: Protected Areas Affect Fine Particulate Matter and Respiratory Hospitalizations in the Brazilian Amazon Biome. Environmental and Resource Economics, 87(1), 45–87. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-023-00813-2

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