Every Breath You Take: Air Pollution Unacceptably High for 90 Percent Of Humanity
By Kurtis Bright
Air Pollution Is Killing Us and It's Only Getting Worse
Environmental warnings become more and more dire every year, it seems. We have melting icecaps including a huge chunk of Antartica about to break away, to the ocean acidification and the death of the Great Barrier Reed, to near-constant mega-storms to new record temperature every month. The natural systems of the earth just can’t catch up with all the havoc we are wreaking.
However, despite the deniers’ refusal to accept responsibility for what we have wrought, we may be finally be seeing some undeniable human consequences of our environmental folly, in the form of deadly, pervasive air pollution.
The alarm has been sounded in the form of a new study: at least 92 percent of the human population lives in areas where air pollution levels exceed those recommended. The study’s authors estimate that 6.2 million people die every year as a result.
The study comes not from some lone maniac posting on his weird blog but from as reliable a group as they come: the World Health Organization. In it the study authors detail an environment gone awry.
“Fast action to tackle air pollution can't come soon enough,” said the WHO’s top environmental official Maria Neira. “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.”
The WHO has published an interactive map of air quality that really brings home what many have suspected for some time: those countries hardest hit by poverty and other poor quality of life measures are the places where most deaths due to air pollution occur. Over 60 percent of deaths due to air pollution occur in low and middle-income countries, mostly centered in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region.
“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations -- women, children and the older adults,” added WHO's Assistant Director General Flavia Bustreo. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.”
The latest study and the air quality model represent WHO’s most extensive, deep and broad effort to date toward understanding and quantifying the effects of air pollution. Developed in conjunction with researchers at the University of Bath in the U.K., it employs satellite data, air transport models, and data culled from ground station monitors in over 3,000 locations in cities and in rural areas.
The researchers then use these data to map a comprehensive picture that illustrates the specific areas that are most affected by a variety of pollution types: vehicular, household fuel-burning pollution, coal-fired plant pollution and other industrial sources.
Officials and researchers at the WHO are hoping that the new map may offer guidance on how to best alleviate specific problems for the hardest-hit areas.
“This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than six million deaths -- one in nine of total global deaths,” said Dr. Neira.