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Articles by Noelle Eckley Selin

Noelle Eckley Selin is an associate professor of data, systems, and society and atmospheric chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Featured Article

Cheating is not a victimless crime. The recent revelations that Volkswagen rigged in-vehicle software to defeat emissions tests are but the latest example of efforts to evade regulations that protect human health and the environment.

In crimes against the environment, it’s sometimes difficult to calculate who is affected and how substantial the damages are. However, it is possible to estimate the damages based on our understanding of the atmosphere and of how pollutants affect human health.

My analysis shows that Volkswagen’s deception — which resulted in emissions 30 to 40 times allowable levels when driving — could exceed $100 million in economic costs from health damages. This staggering sum hints at the scope of the consequences of just one case of corporate cheating.

What air pollutants are we talking about?

The pollutants that Volkswagen failed to effectively control are nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which are collectively known as NOx. NO2 is a dangerous air pollutant in its own right, as it can cause respiratory damages. But combined with other atmospheric pollutants, NOx can form even more dangerous pollutants: ozone and ... Read more