Sunday, September 11, 2016

Breathing with Less Air

Air pollution is now the fourth leading cause of pre-mature death on earth according to the World Bank. Without looking at the numbers generally behind global warming costs – in the trillions of dollars – and just focusing directly on the toll that air pollution has on humanity, a hard perhaps callous review of deaths and productivity declines issued September 8th by the World Bank (with help from theInstitute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) puts it this way: “[The] bank said that an estimated 5.5 million people died in 2013 as a result of diseases ‘associated with outdoor and household air pollution.’ This pollution had both hampered economic development and caused human suffering, the bank said.
“‘Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital and constrains economic growth,’ Laura Tuck, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank, said in the [9/98] news release…. In 2013, these deaths cost the global economy around $225 billion in ‘lost labor’…”, September 9th. The International Energy Agency thinks those numbers are too conservative; they believe the deaths are up to 6.5 million (per their June 27th release).
Over a year ago (8/13/15), an internal study in China reported that Outdoor air pollution contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people in China every year, or about 4,400 people a day. NY Times. In India, the capital city of Delhi has the worst air of any major city on earth. “On bad days, thick smog obscures the sun, reducing visibility to just a few hundred meters. The smog is often tinged with woodsmoke, and the scent clings to jackets and trousers like air from a smoky bar. Delhi's High Court has compared conditions in the city to ‘living in a gas chamber.’
“PM 2.5 particles are exceedingly small and can evade the body's normal defenses and penetrate deep into the lungs, causing chronic health problems. They have been linked to increased risk of asthma, heart disease, stroke and respiratory infections, as well as cancer of the trachea, lung, and bronchus.
“‘In the city of Delhi, exposure to the air is equal to smoking maybe 10 cigarettes a day,’ Rajesh Chawla, a respiratory physician at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, told me. ‘Everybody is a smoker in this city.’” February 18th. India is second only to China with 1.4 million people facing accelerated death rates from air pollution. We know that air pollution reduces life expectancy is most large cities everywhere. Hi Los Angeles and New York!
We know that reducing pollution is a global warming mandate, and we can add that the reduction of air pollution will also have a positive impact on how long and how well we live. But there is another “breathing nasty” we are inflicting on ourselves: cutting back forests and jungles to accommodate growth actually robs us of the plant life we need to change CO2 into oxygen, both undoing some of that pollution while enriching our lungs. Even forgetting about how many animals face extinction over this massive contraction of wilderness, we are just making breathing that much more difficult for ourselves.
“New maps show ‘alarming losses’ of pristine landscapes, particularly in South America and Africa, according to World Conservation Society scientists… They argue in Current Biology that wild areas are ignored in international conservation agreements, despite their ecological and cultural value.
“About 20% of the world's land area is classed as wilderness… By this, scientists mean landscapes free of large-scale human disturbances such as housing, development and industry… The majority of these untouched spaces are found in North America, north Asia, North Africa and Australia… They are often home to indigenous peoples as well as endangered plants and animals…
“The findings are based on a current map of wilderness areas around the globe compared with one produced in the same way in the early 1990s… The [above map shows] that an estimated 3.3 million sq km (almost 10%) of wilderness area has been lost in that time.”, September 9th. There are no functioning global agreements on maintaining indigenous wilderness. Individual nations can designate parklands or restrict building in these endangered areas.
As developing nations argue that the developed world got rich by tearing down forests and building farms and cities in an era of enriching industrialization, they rail at the thought that they now are pressured by the West to conserve their wilderness for a global benefit. Why us? We want to be rich like you. But we all die a little every day as there is more pollution and less breathable oxygen on our world. Something’s got to give. “The researchers say all wilderness areas, regardless of their size, should be assessed immediately for protection measures.
“If not, all attempts to restore places to nature - known as ‘rewilding’ - will be futile, they argue… Toos van Noordwijk, director of engagement and science at Earthwatch Institute (Europe), said the research highlighted a very troubling trend that affects us all… ‘In Europe, we lost most of our wilderness long before 1990,’ she said.” But as I have said so many times before, nature pretty much doesn’t care what we do. She started with a lifeless planet, and if a few or even most species fade – including higher mammals like home sapiens – she’s been there before. She’s got lots of time to rebuild. We don’t.
I’m Peter Dekom, and for those waiting for God to fix this toxicity without their taking the slightest responsibility for causing it – calling it all a “hoax” –  how exactly do you explain so many unhealthy people, so many deaths, and so much environmental destruction without divine intervention?

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