A report telling us that large areas of the world suffer from air pollution. The thing being, well, what should we do about this?
The life expectancy of children born today will be shortened by 20 months on average by breathing the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study.
Air pollution contributed to nearly one in every 10 deaths in 2017, making it a bigger killer than malaria and road accidents and comparable to smoking, according to the State of Global Air (SOGA) 2019 study published on Wednesday.
Perhaps the first thing is to understand what the report is actually telling us.
For example, the highest exposure over a large area to the PMI stuff - the little bits that get stuck in the lungs - is in and around the Sahara. As the report notes - give them credit - this is sand and there’s not a great deal that can really be done about that.
More generally it ‘s the indoor use of solid cooking fuels (this is what they measure, agreeing that solid fuel heating will increase the damage) which produces great exposure for near half the world’s population. Next up is the clouds and smogs of an industrial revolution under way. The rich countries have, obviously enough, pollution problems but they’re of a different and lesser kind.
That is, we’ve the environmental Kuznets Curve here. Pollution changes as development occurs. That internal to the home decreases first even as the factories start to belch. Once interesting amounts of income are being widely shared - for which they’ve got to be created first - then pollution declines, significantly. London’s economy is, after all, far larger than it was in 1955 and we’ve not had a killer smog since.
The report itself is here. The correct takeaway being that economic development cleans up the air, as it cleans up so many other things.
So, what do we do? We argue for more hell for leather economic development so that the currently poor places can quickly reach that same clean and pure air (if you prefer, cleaner and purer) we in the already rich places enjoy. Yea, even though there is that bolus of industrial pollution during the process this is more than offset by the reduction in domestic at the same time.