There are scores of preventable diseases that kill millions every year. We fight malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, cholera, and a host of others with our charity initiatives, aid donations, and volunteer hours. But, behind so many illness all is a killer more vast, and it’s something we created: According to a study from the Lancet, pollution is our most fatal disease.
In a massive, long-term study the Lancet has rolled out today, they make a stark case that pollution is worse than any disease you can name, and the margins are a lot wider than you might think:
For decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people’s health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected both by governments and the international development community. Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015. 92% of all pollution-related mortality is seen in low-income and middle-income countries.
The issue is that pollution can both kill directly by poisoning or rendering air unbreathable, and indirectly, by making medical conditions more serious. In 2015, research found that in China alone, pollution was killing 4,400 people a day. According to an accompanying infographic, the numbers are stark. Pollution causes 16% of all deaths across the world, nine million deaths per year. That’s three times as many as AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, and fifteen times as many as war and criminal violence. In economic terms, it costs us $4.6 trillion a year, and the Lancet estimates American pollution control keeps $200 billion a year in the US economy.
The prescription, according to the Lancet, is to simply stop making toxic crap and pumping it into the air and water. It singles out renewable energy and electric cars as a particularly useful way to cut down on the public health problem, which makes sense. Power plants, coal in particular, account for 35% of carbon emissions in the US and in cities, up to 90% of air pollution comes from cars. This is low-hanging fruit we can, and should, pluck.
As the evidence stacks up, it looks less and less like we can continue with half-measures. It’s time to pay for the damage we’ve done since the industrial revolution. Because that damage is literally killing us.
(via USA Today)