In an opinion piece on The New York Times, David Wallace-Wells, author of the Uninhabitable Earth asks why we accept air pollution as normal when it kills 10 million people per year. With numbers this high, we can’t help but ask ourselves the same question - how are we not acting against this airborne killer?
A few days ago, we shared an update by the WHO stating that over 99% of the world’s population is breathing harmful air that exceeds the annual average guideline set by the organisation. A few days later, we shared an article mentioning how even concentrations at half of the guideline value have been found to cause ill effects to human health. Yet despite this terrible information, we still see little action combating air pollution globally.
Wallace-Wells discusses in his opinion piece that while the impacts of air pollution mean something different around the world (air pollution is not the same in Australia as in India), on a global scale, the consequences are grim. One in five people dies from a cause related to the particulate matter produced from burning fossil fuels.
Globally, our lifespans are being reduced by 2.2 years. This figure is as high as six years in some areas of the world. If you’re curious to learn more, this fantastic resource by the University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index has information for your country.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion in Wallace-Wells’ piece, however, is the discussion of lethality. Lethality is the strictest measurement of the impacts of air pollution because it produces the smallest figures. If we were to analyse the impacts of air pollution, considering illnesses and diseases caused by it, the numbers would be far higher.
The news isn’t all bad, however. We can decrease air pollution, and China is a great example of how fast we can implement change. A mere decade ago, air pollution caused 30,000,000 deaths in China between 2000 and 2016. Between 2013 and 2020, air pollution concentrations fell by 40%, and life expectancy increased by two years on average.
However, at the moment, we remain in the status quo. Changes need to be implemented, but these changes will bring vast differences to our lives.