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In new estimates released this week, the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Reducing air pollution could save millions of lives. 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 new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas. Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution. Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health, said: “Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.” Included in the assessment is a breakdown of deaths attributed to specific diseases, underlining that the vast majority of air pollution deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases as follows: Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease: 40% – ischaemic heart disease; 40% – stroke; 11% – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); 6% – lung cancer; and 3% – acute lower respiratory infections in children. Indoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease: 34% – stroke; 26% – ischaemic heart disease; 22% – COPD; 12% – acute lower respiratory infections in children; 6% – lung cancer. The new estimates are based on the latest WHO mortality data from 2012 as well as evidence of health risks from air pollution exposures. Estimates of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were formulated through a new global data mapping. This incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modelling of how pollution drifts in the air. Risks factors greater than expected Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, says: “The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.” After analysing the risk factors and taking into account revisions in methodology, WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves. The new estimate is explained by better information about pollution exposures among the estimated 2.9 billion people living in homes using wood, coal or dung as their primary cooking fuel, as well as evidence about air pollution’s role in the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cancers. In the case of outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide. Many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Due to this overlap, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together, hence the total estimate of around 7 million deaths in 2012.
Ian Angus posted a article in Cars & TransportationCutting greenhouse gas emissions will throw millions of people out of work! That claim has made many working people reluctant to support action to slow climate change. But is it true? Our Jobs, Our Planet, a report written in 2011 by Jonathan Neale for the European Transport Workers Federation, argues the opposite, that changing the ways that goods and people are moved can reduce emissions from the transport sector by 80% while creating over 12 million new jobs – 7 million in transportation and 5 million in renewable energy. The author of Stop Global Warming, Change the World writes that such a program will be a big win for workers and for the planet: “there are more than 40 million people out of work in Europe now. The planet needs help. They need work. If we succeed, we can solve both problems at once.” Neale’s argument focuses on four kinds of changes: Reduce. We change our lives so we use less energy. For example, cities with dense populations, nearby jobs and local shops create less emissions than suburbs and hypermarkets. Shift. We use a different kind of transport. For example, getting passengers out of cars and into buses cuts carbon dioxide emissions in half. Improve. We make transport more efficient. For example, better designed trucks moving at slower speeds will cut carbon dioxide emissions in half. Electrify. We stop making electricity by burning coal and gas. Instead we use renewables like wind and solar power. This can cut carbon dioxide emissions to almost nothing. The majority of Neale’s 103-page study is a well-documented explanation of how those four principles can be implemented in Europe today, dramatically reducing fossil fuel use while creating millions of new permanent jobs. He also addresses a problem that many such analyses ignore —that under capitalism, jobs created in one area often means jobs eliminated elsewhere. Much more employment in public transport can mean much less in auto manufacturing, for example. That’s why, Neale argues, the transition requires an integrated plan based on public ownership of the industries involved, with a “bedrock guarantee … that anyone who loses a high carbon job is guaranteed proper, lengthy retraining and a new job at the same wages or better.” He urges the labour movement to adopt a two-pronged program for reducing emissions and expanding employment. “If unions stick to policies that support growth in all sectors, we will not be able to deliver that growth. Climate change is coming. If we do not take radical action, we will face radical circumstances. When climate catastrophe arrives, governments will cut aviation, trucking and much else swiftly and savagely. Then there will be no protection for the workers affected. “So unions will need to do two things at once. We need to campaign for serious cuts to emissions. But we need to insist at the same time that those cuts can only come if workers are properly protected. We need to be control of the process, not have it done to us. This is not just a matter for workers in aviation and road freight. It will only happen if workers in other sectors, and other unions, insist that all workers are protected.” Our Jobs, Our Planet: Transport Workers and Climate Change is an important report in its own right, showing what could be done in Europe today with proper planning. It’s also an important example for labour and environmental activists everywhere: this is the kind of analysis and program we need to build an effective labor-green alliance to save the world. I’ve posted the full report here. (pdf)