Air Clean Up

How Does Pollution Compare to Other Big Killers?

Nov 06 2017 Read 738 Times

Pollution has become the single biggest killer on the planet, according to a new report from a team of researchers who have tallied up the collective effects of air, water and soil pollution to provide the most comprehensive overview of pollution to date.

Published last month, the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health analysed a wide range of existing and emerging studies to compile the current contribution of pollution to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD). Disturbingly, it found that pollution is now responsible for more deaths than tobacco, war, cancer, AIDS and heart disease.

Top of the pile

“No one has ever pulled together, in one place, information on the toll of disease and death attributable to all forms of pollution,” said Dr Philip Landrigan, lead author on the report.

His work found that an estimated nine million people die prematurely due to pollution every year. This can be caused from a variety of different kinds of pollution; poor air quality is by far the biggest factor, but contaminated soil, unpotable water and unsanitary working conditions all contribute to the crisis.

As a result, pollution is now responsible for 16% of all deaths, which is roughly equivalent to one in six deaths worldwide. It claims the lives of almost 15 times the amount that all of the wars and violence on the planet do, it’s deadlier than smoking and it’s roughly three times more dangerous than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis put together.

Heart disease is widely regarded as the leading cause of death worldwide, but given that pollution is undoubtedly a factor in bringing about the condition, it can be definitively seen as more dangerous. Just three years ago, air pollution was regarded as one of the top killers worldwide; factor in water, soil and workplace pollution, and it’s certainly the biggest concern we face.

Air quality must be a priority

With air pollution the biggest contributor by some distance, cleaning up our airwaves must be our priority. Fuel combustion is regarded as responsible for as much as 85% of particulate pollution, and almost all nitrogen and sulphur oxide pollution.

As such, regulating our consumption of fuels and how we use them needs to take place. As recently as 2011, Chinese power plants emitted as much nitrogen oxides (NOx) as all the passenger cars in the world, but that country has since taken huge strides towards curbing its emissions. Although it remains the biggest emitter on the planet, it has invested more money into renewable technology than any other nation on Earth.

This is what needs to happen on a global basis. Although the rapid industrialisation and development of large chunks of the third world mean that the vast majority of premature deaths attributable to pollution happen there, we now have the opportunity for such nations to leapfrog obsolete technologies and lead a renewable revolution.

Just as many places have bypassed landlines and dial-up internet for mobile phones and broadband, the same can apply to fossil fuel combustion. Instead of investing in coal, oil and gas, these nations could pursue wind, wave and solar energy to reduce emissions and lead the way in modern energy generation.

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