Europe’s dirty air is costly, so notes WHO

Imagine 600,000 Europeans losing their lives each and every year due to the harmful effects of polluted air, plus all the others whose lives have been negatively impacted suffering from disease and illness that’s related to this. The 600,000 number is based on World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. It is estimated by the WHO also that the cost in monetary terms of those deaths is U.S. $1.4 trillion per year. That’s trillion with a “t”!

In its Apr. 28, 2015 press release “Air pollution costs European economies US$ 1.6 trillion a year in diseases and deaths, new WHO study says,” the organization makes clear that the $1.6 trillion amount is the monetary cost to the European economy in 2010. That amount represents right around a tenth of Europe’s gross domestic product or GDP in 2013, according to the WHO.

“Economic cost of the health impact of air pollution in Europe is the first assessment of the economic burden of deaths and diseases resulting from outdoor and indoor air pollution in 53 countries of the Region,” the WHO stated.

“The economic costs of deaths alone accounts for over US$ 1.4 trillion. Adding another 10% to this, as the cost of diseases from air pollution, results in a total cost of almost US$ 1.6 trillion. In no less than 10 of the 53 countries of the Region, this cost is at or above 20% of national GDP. The study uses the methodology applied in a 2014 report by OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] and makes the calculations based on the most recent economic estimates of the health impacts of air pollution.”

One-point-four trillion dollars is the monetary burden of those 0.6 million annual early deaths. That represents a per-person financial burden of $2.33 million. Imagine!

The WHO just last year estimated that more than 7 million people worldwide in 2012 succumbed from air pollution both indoor and outdoor. That’s one-in-eight persons. Even without a monetary cost attached, that’s an awfully heavy price to pay.

The $2.33 million cost is an important metric because what this says is that the world over, the aggregate cost of those 7 million yearly premature deaths is an economic burden that comes to no less than $16.333 trillion annually. That’s just too high.

Imagine the $1.4 trillion, instead of it being an economic burden on Europe and its citizens, was invested in cleaning up emissions from the building, energy, industrial, manufacturing and transportation sectors mainly. Think what a difference that could make. And, do not think for one minute it can’t be done. It can. Gar W. Lipow, in his book Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming, explains how. But, that’s a post discussion for another day.

The WHO in the release goes on: “The economic value of deaths and diseases due to air pollution – US$ 1 600 000 000 000 – corresponds to the amount societies are willing to pay to avoid these deaths and diseases with necessary interventions. In these calculations, a value is attached to each death and disease, independent of the age of the person and which varies according to the national economic context.”

Meanwhile, from the effects of air pollution outdoors, those in 2012 in the Region dying prematurely numbered 482,000, according to the WHO. Indoor air pollution accounts for the remainder, or 117,200, for a total 599,200. Responsible are diseases of the heart, the respiratory system and blood vessels. Add to this lung cancer and strokes.

“Another new report, Improving environment and health in Europe: how far have we gotten? jointly published by WHO and UNECE, informs that one in four Europeans still falls sick or dies prematurely from environmental pollution. Data from several surveys in priority thematic areas such as water and sanitation, air quality, the day-to-day surroundings of children’s lives, chemicals and asbestos, climate change and health inequalities all show that while progress has been remarkable, it has been uneven,” the WHO’s concluding paragraph in the release in question.