Though it is not apparent but fossil fuels are one form of an Invisible killer that caused 8.7 million deaths globally. Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for widespread deaths estimated to be 8.7 million deaths globally averaging a staggering one in five of all people who died. Countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels to power factories, homes and vehicles are suffering the highest death tolls, with the study finding more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe were caused by the resulting pollution along with nearly a third of deaths in Asia including China though death rates in South America and Africa were significantly lower.
The enormous death toll is higher than previous estimates and surprised even the study’s researchers. They mentioned that they were initially very hesitant when they obtained the results because they are astounding but that they are discovering more and more about the impact of this pollution. Their opinion is that this impact is pervasive.
The 8.7 million deaths represent a key contributor to the global burden of mortality and disease and the death toll exceeds the combined total of people who die globally each year from smoking tobacco plus those who die of malaria. Scientists have established links between pervasive air pollution from burning fossil fuels and cases of heart disease, respiratory ailments and even the loss of eyesight. Without fossil fuel emissions, the average life expectancy of the world’s population would increase by more than a year, while global economic and health costs would fall by about $2.9 trillion.
The new estimate of deaths is higher than other previous attempts to quantify the mortal cost of fossil fuels. It was found out that 4.2 million annual deaths from air pollution coming from dust and wildfire smoke, as well as fossil fuel combustion. The research focuses on the impact of sooty airborne particles thrown out by power plants, cars, trucks and other sources. This particulate matter is known as PM2.5 as the particles are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter or about 30 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair. These tiny specks of pollution, once inhaled, lodge in the lungs and can cause a variety of health problems.
Instead of solely relying upon averaged estimates from satellite and surface observations that account for PM2.5 from a range of sources the researchers used a global 3D model of atmospheric chemistry overseen by NASA that has a more detailed resolution and can distinguish between pollution sources. The researchers then developed a new risk assessment based on a tranche of new research that has found a much higher mortality rate from fossil fuel emissions than previously thought, even in relatively low concentrations. Data was taken for 8 years to account for rapid improvements in air quality.
The results show a varied global picture. China’s air quality is improving but its fine particle concentrations are still staggeringly high, the US is improving, although there are hotspots in the north-east, Europe is a mixed bag and India is definitely a hotspot. Overall, however, this new work makes clearer than ever that, when we talk about the human cost of air pollution or climate change, the major causes are one and the same – fossil fuel combustion.
Recent research has been exploring the use of newer exposure-response functions and several recent papers that use these newer functions have produced higher estimates of pollution-related mortality. It is considered important that different risk assessment models are now being developed, because their development will force re-examination of the assumptions that underlie current models and will improve them. The need for employing additional methods and approaches is essential keeping in view the mortal dangers given rise by fossil fuels. This is a serious matter and it is as risky a prospect and could be placed side by side with the perils of climate change.
The application of improved methodologies have enabled to better quantify exposures and better document health outcomes in order to reach the unsettling but not surprising conclusion that fossil-fuels-combustion-related air pollution is more damaging to global human health than previously estimated. The remote satellite imagery exposure specialists and health epidemiologists on the research team are highly competent investigators and among the most talented scholars in this dynamic field. This development has encouraged employing even better and sophisticated gadgetry to arrive at more precise results. Fossil fuels have a really large impact upon health, the climate and the environment and it is needed a more immediate response. Some governments have carbon-neutral goals but maybe the need is to move them forward given the huge damage to public health. This task is required to be done with urgency. TW