Study: Air Pollution is a Major Killer. But You Knew That.

February 10, 2021

News Flash: Fossil Fuels Kill.

Guardian:

Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7m deaths globally in 2018, a staggering one in five of all people who died that year, new research has found.

Countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels to power factories, homes and vehicles are suffering the highest death tolls, with the study finding more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe were caused by the resulting pollution, along with nearly a third of deaths in eastern Asia, which includes China. Death rates in South America and Africa were significantly lower.

The enormous death toll is higher than previous estimates and surprised even the study’s researchers. “We were initially very hesitant when we obtained the results because they are astounding, but we are discovering more and more about the impact of this pollution,” said Eloise Marais, a geographer at University College London and a study co-author. “It’s pervasive. The more we look for impacts, the more we find.”

The 8.7m deaths in 2018 represent a “key contributor to the global burden of mortality and disease”, states the study, which is the result of collaboration between scientists at Harvard University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London. The death toll exceeds the combined total of people who die globally each year from smoking tobacco plus those who die of malaria.

Scientists have established links between pervasive air pollution from burning fossil fuels and cases of heart diseaserespiratory ailments and even the loss of eyesight. Without fossil fuel emissions, the average life expectancy of the world’s population would increase by more than a year, while global economic and health costs would fall by about $2.9tn.

The new estimate of deaths, published in the journal Environmental Research, is higher than other previous attempts to quantify the mortal cost of fossil fuels. A major report by the Lancet in 2019, for example, found 4.2m annual deaths from air pollution coming from dust and wildfire smoke, as well as fossil fuel combustion.

“We don’t appreciate that air pollution is an invisible killer,” said Neelu Tummala, an ear, nose and throat physician at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “The air we breathe impacts everyone’s health but particularly children, older individuals, those on low incomes and people of color. Usually people in urban areas have the worst impacts.”

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences:

“Often, when we discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion, it’s in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impact of the pollutants co-emitted with greenhouse gases,” said Schwartz. “We hope that by quantifying the health consequences of fossil fuel combustion, we can send a clear message to policymakers and stakeholders of the benefits of a transition to alternative energy sources.”

The research underscores the importance of policy decisions, said Vohra. 

The researchers estimated that China’s decision to cut its fossil fuels emissions nearly in half saved 2.4 million lives worldwide, including 1.5 million lives in China, in 2018.  

“Our study adds to the mounting evidence that air pollution from ongoing dependence on fossil fuels is detrimental to global health,” said Marais. “We can’t in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives.” 

2 Responses to “Study: Air Pollution is a Major Killer. But You Knew That.”

  1. redskylite Says:

    In the efforts to slow and stop the fossil fuel emitted pollution, the human health effects are often forgotten or minimised. A study in the Lancet, just published, ties neatly in with this new Harvard study, and makes a strong case to promote the human health benefits of taking urgent action against climate change.
    ——————————-
    ——————————-
    “We compared these health co-benefits with two alternative scenarios, one consistent with the goal of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (ie, the sustainable pathways scenario), and one in line with the sustainable pathways scenario, but also placing health as a central focus of the policies (ie, the health in all climate policies scenario).”

    https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(20)30249-7/fulltext


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