Feb 15, 2016

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.

Read more »from Next Big Future