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Earth Science

WHO: Air Pollution 'Killed 7 Million People' In 2012 97

Posted by Soulskill
from the commence-the-war-on-air dept.
dryriver sends word of new figures from the World Health Organization that estimate around 7 million people died in 2012 as a result of their exposure to air pollution. "In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases." The Organization says the bulk of the deaths occurred in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific Regions (PDF), with indoor air pollution causing more deaths than outdoor pollution in those areas, largely due to the use of coal, wood, and biomass stoves for cooking.
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WHO: Air Pollution 'Killed 7 Million People' In 2012

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  • by bunratty (545641) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @05:48PM (#46578115)
    That would be true if the number of people of each age was the same. But there are many more children than elderly, since the population is still rising.
  • by Alomex (148003) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @05:53PM (#46578167) Homepage

    This is a meaningless statistic. Serious medical researchers report this in person-years lost, not in meaningless "millions of deaths". To illustrate, let's suppose those 57 million people were infirm and about to die, but pollution hastened their demise by one second. Then this is not a big deal. Personally I would happily shorten my life for exactly one second in exchange for the conveniences of modern life. On the other hand if these people had their lives substantially shortened then this is a veritable tragedy.

    However such misleading headline doesn't surprise me: the UN is a master of over-hyped sky-is-falling chicken-little statistics.

  • by deadweight (681827) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @06:00PM (#46578235)
    Biomass and wood are short-term renewables and coal is renewable too on a geologic time scale. All 3 were leading offenders here, so thi smakes no sense. * I guess uranium is renewable too if you wait for a new planet...
  • by lgw (121541) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @06:20PM (#46578485) Journal

    Every power source is really solar power (well, fission was enables by a different star, but still). Everything is "envirnmentally damaging, to some extent.

    The problem here isn't some hand-wavy abstraction, the problem is people burning wood and coal indoors (plus the very existence of toxic city - eesh, burning dumped electronic waste to recover the metals). It's the same problem that caused "pea soup fogs" and killed enough people in London ~100 years ago to cause the first air quality-related laws.

    Fission isn't great, sure, but it's problems really are minor compared to burning coal or wood - but then, it's not going to help the very low-tech regions having these problems. Natural gas, OTOH, burns clean, and there's certainly no shortage of it, but it's hard to transport. Solar thermal is low tech and works, but it's capital-intensive for impoverished regions (still, it would make a nice charity endeavor) and a crappy choice for heating at night.

    There aren't any easy answers, because anything you do requires infrastructure. And there are places in the world more developed than you'd think where running miles of copper wires for power distribution is just too impractical to keep in place.

  • by lgw (121541) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @08:58PM (#46579937) Journal

    Fusion would change everything, no doubt, but you can't really blame the lack of progress (only) on cutting budgets. The "always 20 years out" is as much about the fact that "20 years out" is the same as "no useful progress" as anything else. But there is, after all, a quite powerful fusion reaction going on overhead, and I suspect that the problems with harnessing that will be solved much faster. Mostly we just need a dense, safe battery, and progress on that is evident yearly.

    As far as fission fuel reprocessing, we're just ultra-paranoid about nuclear proliferation. From an energy perspective it's quite silly, but as any veteran engineer knows: sometimes the non-engineering factors do need to determine outcomes.

    As far as safety - I think we can make reactors fairly tolerant of operator abuse, if we can at least avoid really stupid shortcuts when the thing is built (no Chernobyl-style reactors). For all that Fukushima is a mess, it's still pretty trivial compared to the natural disaster that caused it. Three Mile Island was about as much operator error as it's possible to make, and still the failure mode just wasn't that bad. Modern designs are far safer than either - safer I suspect than a refinery/chemical plant.

  • by Sabriel (134364) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:29PM (#46580207)

    There are problems with the report (per Figures 4, apparently zero people between the ages of 5 and 25 died of air pollution), but there are also problems with your response:

    #1. Pollution-related illnesses and deaths are rarely quick or pleasant. Heart disease. Lung cancer. Stroke. Respiratory infections. These are not pleasant ways to go.

    #2. Relating to #1, "Person-years lost". If I stubbornly live to the ripe old age of 85, but the last third of that is spent choking on my own phlegm, being hooked up to machines on a weekly/monthly basis, and puttering about in my wheelchair whilst breathing with the assistance of an oxygen tank, apparently I haven't lost any person-years - in fact, by refusing to lay down and die, I've _improved_ my region's "person-years lost" statistic.

    #3. So their headline "Air pollution killed 7 million people in 2012" is misleading whilst your conclusion "the UN is a master of over-hyped sky-is-falling chicken-little statistics" is not? Seriously?

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