There is deservedly a great deal of focus on the effects that carbon pollution is having upon the climate and most countries around the world are working to reduce their emissions. However, even if climate effects were not a serious threat to humanity, pollution is a deadly menace to human health.
In a report issued by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, pollution is estimated to be linked to 9 million deaths worldwide each year. This is one-sixth of all human fatalities. Most of these deaths are due to non-communicable diseases caused by pollution such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Air pollution is by far the biggest contributor, linked to 6.5 million deaths in 2015. Water pollution at 1.8 million deaths and workplace-related pollution at 0.8 million deaths pose the largest specific risks.
But pollution is more than an environmental challenge. It is also a tragedy of injustice. Almost all pollution-related deaths – roughly 92% – occur in low- and middle-income countries with the greatest impacts occurring in countries that are currently undergoing rapid development and industrialization. Pollution is responsible for as many as one in four deaths in places like India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Madagascar, and Kenya. The developed world has exported its pollution casualties.
There are debates about the use of fossil fuels and the economic impact of reducing emissions. Coal and oil companies are fighting to retain their piece of the pie using all the leverage they can muster. But meanwhile, even as the climate continues to warm, millions of people around the world are losing their lives to the unwanted byproducts of industrialization.
Photo, posted January 4, 2017, courtesy Gauthier Delecroix via Flickr.