Air pollution has turned into the greatest risk to human health, cutting expectancy by 6 years as per data released. Billions continue to lead unhealthier and shorter lives and the affected areas keep increasing to include even semi-urban and rural areas.
Air pollution is now the number one killer ahead of road accidents, smoking, and HIV. The biggest cause of air pollution in countries like India is the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. Life expectancy in India is cut short by 6 years due to its effect.
In the past 7 years, China has managed to cut down on air pollution, but polluted air continues to decrease life expectancy in the nation by 2.6 years.
The climate crisis is being aggravated by air pollution caused by the burning of fossil rules even though nations have it within their power to act against it. The lockdown induced by the pandemic gave Indians a glimpse of air pollution-free nations as even the Himalayas could be seen from hundreds of kilometers away. In normal times visibility in highly polluted cities like New Delhi is down to a few meters.
Wildfires are compounding the problem of air pollution and adding to climate change as we are caught in a vicious cycle. Professor Michael Greenstone, University of Chicago says that air pollution remains the greatest threat to health, though the matter is not given the urgency it deserves.
Greenstone and his team have established the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which converts the figures of air pollution into its impact on the life expectancy of humans.
Air Pollution Has The Greatest Negative Impact On Life Expectancy
Humans lose 17 billion years in total, at an average of 2.2 years due to air pollution. Greenstone says that nothing compares or even comes close to the figure. He further says that we are causing it, not just allowing it to happen. And the greatest tragedy is that it can be prevented.
But countries like India have taken little action to improve air quality and have allowed their citizens to lead much sicker and shorter lives.
The health cost of atmospheric pollution is staggering. It costs the nation 1% of GDP in terms of sick days, reduced output, and medical bills. Greenpeace has estimated that air pollution costs around $2.9 trillion.
Air pollution is the cause of the greatest killer diseases including asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, hypertension. Their total cost on the economy was calculated to be $200 billion in 2018.
Reducing Pollution To Levels As Per WHO Guidelines
In addition to the reduction in health costs, reducing atmospheric pollution to levels as laid down by the World Health Organization could add 5.9 years to the lives of Indians. The level of air pollution in North India is and staggering 10 times the average global level. For Bangladesh and Nepal, it could increase it by 5.4 years, and for Pakistan by 3.9 years.
Particulate pollution is at par with malaria and HIV in many African nations but receives little attention. For instance, in the highly polluted nations of Niger and Nigeria, life expectancy is down by 6 and 3.4 years respectively due to t air pollution.
China has been waging a war on pollution and has managed to reduce levels of pollution by 29%. That has added 1.5 years on average to life expectancy. But the cuts need to be sustained in the long term for it to have any effect on the health of its citizens.
The use of fossil gas does cut down on atmospheric pollution when compared to coal, but it is in no way a better alternative as it continues to drive global heating on the same scale as coal. But the effect of burning coal makes it the most expensive of fuels when the health costs are factored into it.