Failing To Control Air Pollution Leads To Millions of Deaths: Study

Reducing air pollution emissions may help save more than 153 million lives around the world in the long-term, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published March 19, in the journal Nature of Climate Change, researchers warn that taking a slower approach to reducing air emissions to save money endangers millions of human lives years from now.

Researchers from Duke University, working with NASA, focused on human health benefits of increasing 21st century CO2 reductions by 180 GtC (gigatons of carbon). This amount would shift a standard 2 degree Celsius scenario to 1.5 degrees Celcius or could achieve 2 degree Celsius without negative emissions.

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Other research has shown air pollution can increase a person’s risk of premature death. One study indicated long-term exposure to air pollution doubled a person’s risk of heart problems. It may also lead to degenerative diseases in the long-term, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. In fact, even exposure to air pollution at levels below National Safety Standards may increase a person’s risk of death.

In this latest study, researchers indicate decreasing air pollution would lead to 153 million fewer premature deaths globally. More than 40% of those deaths would occur during the next 40 years.

The lives saved come from the world’s largest cities. Especially in countries like Asia and Africa. More than 200,000 lives would be saved from urban areas in every inhabited continent.

Los Angeles and New York are among the six cities that could avoid large numbers of premature deaths, as many as 320,000, if international governments reduce carbon and other emissions now, the researchers indicated.

Air pollution exposure kills as many as 20,000 Americans every year. Additionally, studies indicate exposure to air pollution has many harmful side effects, including increasing a person’s risk of stroke, accelerating premature aging in children, and causing developmental issues in infant brains.

Actions to reduce emissions and limit the global temperature increase by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit will save many more lives, according to the researchers.

The findings come as many nations are now considering taking the low-cost approach to reducing emissions. This would reduce emissions over the long-term. However, air pollution emissions would stay high in the short term, but result in more deaths sooner.

This plan is cost-effective, yet the plan would result in more than 150 million lost lives, the researchers indicate.

Researchers indicate reducing emissions now would result in increased long-term emission reductions. It would also avoid the need to rely on future carbon dioxide removal measures.

The study was funded by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

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