There is a large body of evidence that severe air pollution affects the life spans of people who live in counties where the problem is the worst. Among the studies that address this are one from Oxford Academic and another from the Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. The most recent and among the most comprehensive studies was just released. It is the annual update of the Air Quality Life Index for September 2021. Much of the analysis is based on World Health Organization data.
Among the primary conclusions of the new study is this: “The AQLI’s latest data reveals that reducing air pollution to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline would add 2.2 years onto global life expectancy.”
The primary metric is how many years people in a country would live if the country’s air quality was in line with this guideline.
The measure of air pollution is largely based on PM2.5, or a high level of hazardous particulate matter. According to an EPA study, “PM2.5 describes fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.” This affects the heart and lungs and can harm other systems in the human body.
The study links the rise in poor air quality to climate change, particularly that which has been caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The worst concentration of this tends to be in large cities. One country was singled out in the study as having addressed the problem aggressively: “Since 2013, particulate pollution in China has declined by 29 percent, adding about 1.5 years onto average life expectancy assuming these reductions are sustained.”
The nation where reducing air pollution to WHO standards would have the biggest impact is India, where the average life span would improve by 5.9 years. Bangladesh follows at 5.4 years added, and then Nepal at 5.0 years. Both of those countries border India. China is well down the list at 2.6 years.
If the report offers any hope, it is in the China data. The question is whether the nations with the worst problems will do anything to solve them.
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