Burning fewer fossil fuels could add two years to global life expectancy


Air quality can vary around the country, as seen in this map from the World Air Quality Index Project.

According to research in The Global Burden of Disease Study, an annual collaborative study from hundreds of researchers detailing the health effects of various diseases and injuries, an estimated 4.14 million deaths can be attributed to particulate matter from air pollution in 2019 alone. According to last year’s State of Global Air report, air pollution was the fourth-leading cause of death in 2019 worldwide. Researches at the University of Chicago who published the Air Quality Life Index really put the toll air pollution takes on humans into perspective:

“Alcohol use reduces life expectancy by nine months; unsafe water and sanitation, seven months; HIV/AIDS, four months; malaria, three months; and conflict and terrorism, just seven days. Thus, the impact of particulate pollution on life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, almost three times that of alcohol and drug use and unsafe water, five times that of HIV/AIDS, and 114 times that of conflict and terrorism,” Michael Greenstone and Ken Lee wrote.

In addition to potentially being life-threatening, inhaling particulates higher than the WHO standard also presents devastating health effects. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, fine inhalable particulate matter accounts for the most health effects of air pollution in the U.S. and can lead to chronic conditions and even cancer. Climate change can manifest in lethal ways well past the air we breathe. Thus, reducing emissions would significantly reduce the risk of those succumbing to hotter temperatures and major weather events like flooding.

Research like this really hammers home just how dangerous polluters like power plants and manufacturers can be to the community. For me in Louisiana, I think of Cancer Alley, the 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans filled with communities at the front lines of the climate change fight who are feeling some of its worst effects. According to the World Air Quality Index Project, places like LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish see frequent air pollution spikes, likely because of their location. The LaPlace station sits just a few miles from the Denka/DuPont plant that many community leaders are battling, including the group Concerned Citizens of St. John. Air quality isn’t an isolated issue, either, as even fine particles can linger in the air for quite some time and even travel hundreds of miles. Have you been affected by air pollution in your community and, if so, how?

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