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Earth Science

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

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 Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Tuesday March 25, 2014 @09:46PM (#46580365)

    First off I agree that considering CO2 at the expense of all other pollutants is folly. However...

    There's *lots* of evidence that the global climate periodically shifts dramatically due in large part to instabilities in the carbon cycle - i.e. planet starts to cool, ice sheets spread, CO2 gets locked into the permafrost,etc. in a self-accelerating cycle until we reach a full-on ice age. Or alternately planet starts to warm, permafrost thaws releasing more CO2 into the air until eventually the ice sheets melt entirely. It's more complicated than that, but there's basically zero scientific debate that if something destabilizes the global climate badly enough we slide to the opposite extreme. The positive-feedback link between the ecological carbon cycle and global climate is firmly established, it's happened many times in observable history, and the combination of atmospheric CO2 levels and variations in solar irradiance, along with a few other minor contributors, pretty much explain all global climate shifts in the bast half-million years, though they're mostly all preceded by one or more major trigger events that destabilize things. And the fact that we're currently in an interglacial period within an ice age is equally firmly established.

    The only question remaining is exactly how big a change in global climate is required to act as a trigger event to set the planet on a long-term warming cycle. Human CO2 emissions are vanishingly small compared to the environmental emissions that will be released if we cross the tipping point, but reaching the tipping point only seems to require, at most, a few degrees of temperature change to send us sliding to the opposite extreme. The question that remains unanswered is whether human CO2 emissions are causing sufficient warming to be a trigger event in their own right, and the evidence is strongly suggestive that it is. Depending on the assumptions made we may be able to have another century of warming before crossing the threshold, or we may already have done so.

    So yeah, CO2 emissions are a big deal. Disregarding humans I'd be tempted to say lets just keep toxins out of the environment, and let things follow their course. But humans introduce two major problems:
    1) Over the last few tens of thousands of years we seem to be responsible for one of the larger extinctions in our planets history - this on top of the extinctions due to being in an ice age - interglacial period or not. Adding a sudden dramatic climate shift - potentially faster than any in the geologic record, could be devastating to an already severely damaged biosphere.
    2) We're unlikely to go quietly - if things get ugly I fully expect most every human on the planet to do anything and everything necessary to ensure their own survival, and/or ensure that nobody else profits from their death. Pollution will be a non-issue if weighed against survival, and WWIII could make things far uglier for millenia to come. In other words if we cross the tipping point I suspect we'll start emitting toxic pollution at rates to dwarf those seen before the environmental movement got started - to avoid long term hideous pollution rates we need to avoid crossing the tipping point.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!