Pollution — whether air pollution, water pollution, or soil pollution — is currently responsible for around 16% of all deaths globally, according to a new report from The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.
Report author and Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear commented: “This is the first global analysis of the impacts of pollution — air, water, soil, occupational — together as well as exploring the economic costs and the social injustice of pollution. Pollution, which is at the root of many diseases and disorders that plague humankind, is entirely preventable.”
Notably, around 92% of all pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. This reality is of course due to the impacts of outsourcing most of the “developed” world’s industrial capacity to the poorer parts of the world where labor is cheaper (and slavery of various types is more prevalent) and environmental controls are much laxer. In other words, the pollution in those parts of the world is intimately tied up with the consumerist lifestyle of those living in the wealthier parts of the world.
“Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths — 16% of all deaths worldwide — three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; and fifteen times more than all wars and other forms of violence. It kills more people than smoking, hunger and natural disasters. In some countries, it accounts for one in four deaths.
“Pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable. … Within countries, pollution’s toll is greatest in poor and marginalized communities. Children face the highest risks because small exposures to chemicals in utero and in early childhood can result in lifelong disease and, disability, premature death, as well as reduced learning and earning potential.
“Pollution is closely tied to climate change and biodiversity. Fossil fuel combustion in higher-income countries and the burning of biomass in lower-income countries accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution. Major emitters of carbon dioxide are coal-fired power plants, chemical producers, mining operations, and vehicles. Accelerating the switch to cleaner sources of energy will reduce air pollution and improve human and planetary health.”
That said, pollution has been a rapidly growing problem in recent decades. It’s not simply a matter of switching to “cleaner sources of energy,” but rather a matter of reducing resource consumption in general, and altering the systems that people are dependent upon to allow for this to happen — if pollution is to actually be brought under any kind of control, that is.
Notably, as the report was focused on human health, it didn’t go too far into the impact on the wider world. Human-caused pollution is of course having a profoundly negative effect on the rest of the natural world as well (which people are entirely dependent upon, it should be remembered, not that that is the only reason to care about it).