Efforts to slow the process of global warming focus on the future damage of continuing fossil fuel burning, but new research Released Tuesday shows that deadly effects of pollution are currently killing more people than previously thought.
Fossil fuels alone are responsible for more than 8 million premature deaths each year, according to new research by a team of US and UK scientists published in Environmental research. That's double the earlier high-end estimate of particulate pollution deaths, and three times the combined deaths from HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2018.Editor's Note: The report estimates a global premature death rate of 8.7 million people annually from fossil fuel pollution).
While air quality has improved in many countries, especially richer ones, the findings suggest that even at lower concentrations, fossil fuel pollution is more deadly than previously believed. In the United States, for example, the researchers found that 350,000 premature deaths per year are due to particulate matter pollution from fossil fuel combustion, compared to previous estimates of about 100,000 to 150,000. This means that even successful pollution fighters have more work to do – especially in poor and historically deprived areas, where pollution is even more concentrated.
This work might have been prevented from informing public health policy, but before a federal court in Montana, which last week overturned a rule set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under former President Donald Trump that anonymised scientific research based on standard health data was disregarded. in his work. In fact, the rule would have overturned nearly three decades of research showing that air pollution is killing people.
"As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency's ability to rely on this important study has been significantly enhanced," said Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, of the lawsuit.
The new study improves on previous methods in several ways. Much earlier work – including previous editions of the influential Global Burden of Disease Research– based on equivalents extrapolated from cigarette smoking studies. However, there is now enough data on the true health effects of “PM₂.₂,” the deadliest type of particulate matter, consisting of particles smaller than 2.5 millionths of a meter, for the researchers to refine their findings.
The scientists have also made other methodological improvements, including by deducing a closer relationship between levels of air pollution and their effects in different regions from an extensive review of research from around the world. An improved model of how air pollution travels gave scientists more confidence in their numbers.
The results underscore a fact that is lacking in many public debates and discussions about climate change. While the battle to stop greenhouse gas pollution by limiting fossil fuel use is framed in terms of how it would improve the future, it is also true that fossil fuels are killing millions of people right now. That's how Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate Health and the Global Environment at Harvard's Chan School of Public Health, understands the new research.
"I'm a pediatrician," said Bernstein, who is familiar with the new study but not involved. “When I take care of a child who has trouble breathing because they breathe polluted air, the parent of that child may be very concerned about the world their child will grow up in and live their life in, am 40, 50, 80 years old. But I assure you they are much more concerned about the child not breathing at this point. ”
Photo: Smoke pours from an exhaust pipe in this photo taken by Ina Fassbender / picture alliance / Getty Images.
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