Globally, in 2012, from the effects of air pollution 7 million people died prematurely, according to World Health Organization or WHO estimates. This is up from an estimated 800,000 in 2000. The fact of the matter is, without mitigation, the situation could get worse.
Although the 7 million amounts to just 0.1 percent of the 7 billion in total world population, it is the growth in the numbers of those deaths that is troubling. In the span of just 13 years, deaths caused by air pollution skyrocketed: an increase of 775 percent. Imagine that kind of increase every dozen or so years. Personally, I can’t imagine.
So, at what point do people take a stand and say “enough is enough already?!” Or, how many people need die from air pollution’s effects before the world starts to pay attention? I mean really starts to pay attention? My sense is those thresholds have not yet been reached.
The fact that there is as much loss of life as there is this way is disquieting. Whether this many people or if even one person dies on account of air-pollution-related sickness is indeed sad. And, even if we are not exposed to moderately unhealthful or hazardous levels of air pollution on an ongoing basis ourselves, based on the way print, broadcast and video news reports get disseminated and therefore by association who this is reaching, we know for a fact that many are exposed.
That smog, the toxic brew that it is, damages delicate lung tissue. Not unlike other toxic gaseous compounds, elements or substances, depending upon smog exposure level and to what degree (concentration) and over what time duration, no doubt determines the extent of lung-tissue damage done.
Smog isn’t the only concern, though. There are other pollutants on the radar also; namely, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM 2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur oxide (SOx), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and others.
So, why has world air condition gotten as bad as it has?
Transportation: We’ve gone too far?
Looking at motorized transport in America, this much I know: In an average day, approximately 50,000 airplanes take to the skies; in transit at the same time are roughly 40 million of a total quarter billion road-based power vehicles; and nearly 32,000 commuter, intercity and subway trains roll on down the lines. Keep in mind this does not include the myriad freight train and maritime moves added to the mix, but, when factored in, it’s a lot of to-and-fro-traffic moving about.
As it applies, through my researching and writing on matters having to do with the air, I’ve learned about healthcare costs arising from the effects of polluted air. In monetary terms those are huge.
Renee Schoof in an Oct. ‘09 McClatchy Newspapers article (“Report looks at hidden health costs of energy production”) mentions a one-year National Research Council (NRC) study that considered such costs. The report committee, consisting of 19 panel members “… looked at transportation by motor vehicles, which make up 75 percent of transportation energy use, but it didn’t monetize the pollution damages from air, rail or water transportation. It estimated the pollution damages from motor-vehicle transportation at $56 billion in 2005,” Schoof wrote.
“The dollar amounts were mainly early deaths due to pollution, with the value of each life put at $6 million, consistent with other studies,” added the McClatchy Newspapers columnist.
Over nine-tenths or more than $5.4 million represented what Schoof referred to as “the statistical cost of early deaths.” As I understand it, there were other costs examined by the panel in the studies as well such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, this information came courtesy of committee panel Vice Chair and University of Maryland Economics Professor, Maureen Cropper. Meanwhile, in “High price of breathing polluted air: Energy production and transportation in the crosshairs,” I indicated also the “… NRC report estimated the yearly hidden costs associated with early mortality and health impacts to the thousands of Americans so-affected, and in this case all attributable to fossil fuel use, totaled $120 billion. Roughly half – $62 billion – was tied to electricity production from the burning of coal, according to Schoof.”
So, what are some viable ways to cut pollution from the motorized transport sector?
In “Landmark California program could have huge emissions-reductions impact,” in referencing a Cambridge Systematics, Inc.-prepared study in July 2009 for the Moving Cooler Steering Committee called: Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, I wrote: “Among effective strategies identified to mitigate deficiencies directly linked to the production of greenhouse gas and other emissions are: improve both motor vehicle and fuel efficiency, decrease the production of carbon coming from ignited fuels, reduce the number of vehicle travel miles and improve the transportation network.”
Eliminating pollution in the air is not impossible. With the correct prescriptive approach applied, plus with people motivated and resolved enough to get the job done right it is this combination that will result in air pollution being gone for good. This is exactly what I believe it will take.
For more on related conducted studies, see: “Polluted air: The ‘heart’ of the problem,” “$64 million question: To exercise or not in the presence of dirty air,” “Tracking pollution: Research helps explain air-contaminant survival,” “Air: It ain’t what it used to be … but it can be again,” and “Can PM 2.5 lead to early mortality?”