More than 5.5 million people worldwide are dying prematurely every year as a result of air pollution, according to new research.
World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total dead. Over 60 million people were killed. The 5.5 million premature deaths from air pollution means over 60 million die prematurely every 11 years.
Allowing global air pollution to continue at current levels is like allowing a world war to continue uncontested against the global population and economy. There is also additional economic costs in the trillions.
Airborne pollution doesn’t necessarily (or even often) stay in the country of origin. About one third of China’s air pollution is carried to other countries like Japan and even crosses over to North America.
China’s (in particular) prodigious output of airborne nano-pollution is the chief factor which has lead to Arctic ice-cover loss.
Soot pollution (i.e. dark stuff) reduces albedo. Which necessarily increases solar absorption. Which deposits more joules to the surface. Which MELTS ice faster. This effect is currently estimated to be about as large as any carbon dioxide effect for overall global climate warming. This effect may be larger for ice melting.
Sulfur Dioxide (smog) condenses in atmosphere (with help from ultraviolet) to sulfur trioxide aerosols. These bright white aerosols stay aloft for years, and act as a mutual reflective blanket: reflecting a small amount of sunlight outward (nominally cooling.) but retaining a higher fraction of infrared ground emissions (blanketing, warming), which impacts the outflow of infrared, which is what normally powers the consolidation of sea ice.
Most of these deaths are occurring in the rapidly developing economies of China and India.
The main culprit is the emission of small particles from power plants, factories, vehicle exhausts and from the burning of coal and wood.
The data was compiled as part of the Global Burden of Disease project.
“Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease,” said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada. “Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.“
Analysis shows that the two countries account for 55 per cent of the deaths caused by air pollution worldwide. About 1.6 million people died of air pollution in China and 1.4 million died in India in 2013.
In China, burning coal is the biggest contributor to poor air quality. Qiao Ma, a PhD student at the School of Environment, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, found that outdoor air pollution from coal alone caused an estimated 366,000 deaths in China in 2013.
The expected number of premature deaths in China in the future if the country meets its current targets to restrict coal combustion and emissions through a combination of energy policies and pollution controls. She found that air pollution will cause anywhere from 990,000 to 1.3 million premature deaths in 2030 unless even more ambitious targets are introduced.
Air pollution is like a world war of casualties that is not ending
World War II fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total dead ranging from 50 million to more than 80 million. The higher figure of over 80 million includes deaths from war-related disease and famine. Civilians killed totalled 50 to 55 million, including 19 to 28 million from war-related disease and famine. Total military dead: from 21 to 25 million, including deaths in captivity of about 5 million prisoners of war.
Air pollution is killing with increased heart attacks, lung disease, fatal asthmas attacks and other disease. It hits those who are elderly and infants more. Air pollution is like forcing everyone even infants and elderly to smoke several cigarettes every day.
There have been 4 to 6 times the world war 2 equivalent of deaths caused by air pollution since 1945.
Technology and policies exists to reduce the deaths and disease by ten times or more within ten years and economies would gain from reduced public health costs and other gains from reduction of building and structural damage
The cost of air pollution in China has been estimated at 6.5 percent of GDP. Applying that figure to China’s GDP of $8,227 trillion dollars in 2012, the year on which we base much of our analysis, implies that reducing air pollution in China to levels considered acceptable by WHO would yield annual benefits of $535 billion. As incomes rise and China becomes more urbanized, these costs are rising.
Air pollution damages buildings and infrastructure because of acid rain and other effects. Also flight delays from reduced visibility also are among many air pollution costs.
China’s GDP including Hong Kong and Macau will be about $11.6 trillion in 2015. This would mean the cost of the air pollution would be $750 billion.
Rand estimates the costs of three measures to reduce air pollution in China:
1. substituting natural gas or propane for coal for residential and commercial use
2. replacing coal with renewable and nuclear fuels to generate electricity
3. scrapping older vehicles.
Replacing coal used for residential and commercial use and about half of all coal used to generate electricity in 2012 would have resulted in a decline in coal use of 1.009 million metric tons, representing 27 percent of Chinese coal consumption that year.
The cost of replacing half of coal-fired power with water, wind, and nuclear power at $184 billion.
Nextbigfuture covered the concept of spraying water from skyscrapers to reduce air pollution in cities in China.
Spraying water from skyscrapers could help to reduce the concentration of PM2.5 pollution – tiny particles in the air which are especially hazardous to health – efficiently to a safer level of 35 micrograms per cubic metre, and in as quick as 30 minutes. Air pollution is a big problem in China and this is approach to pollution mitigation is being developed there.
In addition, the process is natural, technologically feasible, efficient and low cost. All the necessary technologies and materials required to make it work are already available, Yu says, from high buildings, towers and aircraft, to weather modification technology and automatic sprinkler heads.
Tests will be performed at Zhejiang University campus first and then Hangzhou city if everything goes well. If we are successful, our work can be followed by the other cities in China and around the world.”
Air pollution in China has progressively worsened over the past 30 years, particularly in its megacities, due to rapid economic growth and expansion of industrial activity. According to a Greenpeace report released last week, in 2013, 92 per cent of Chinese cities failed to reach the national standard of a PM2.5 density of no greater than 35 micrograms per cubic metre. Thirty-two cities were double the standard, while the top 10 cities were three times the standard.
Air pollution medical studies
There is clear daily correlation between hospital admissions and days with higher air pollution levels
Many journal articles and studies show the daily correlation between hospital admissions, increased sickness and higher levels of air pollution.
Higher levels of particulate matter are associated with higher levels of hospitalisation for children, while ozone plays an important role in explaining hospital admissions of the elderly.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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