Air pollution is killing too many people
By John Bos
There is a Sanskrit proverb that observes, “For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.”
Breathing is the only autonomous system of the body that we can also control. This means that although the body governs our breathing, we can change how we breathe through conscious breathing practices such as pranayama.
Think about this in the context of new data compiled by sixteen scientists from eight international institutions who worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) which found that more than nine out of ten people on Earth – a mind-numbing 6.76 billion people – are breathing polluted air. The WHO analysis, which gathered data from 3,000 locations, using pollution monitors on the ground, modeling and satellite readings, found China to be the world’s deadliest country for outdoor air pollution.
Air pollution is now claiming about 6.5 million lives each year according to the WHO report, with most deaths in China, India and other developing countries. That said, America does not get off easily. About 15% of the affluent cities in the U.S. from Los Angeles to New York City fail to meet air quality standards.
Air pollution is but one of the life-threatening impacts of human-caused global warming. Denial of global warming is not just an opinion, it has become a dominant mark of people’s political identity. Putting that aside, I want to suggest an approach to understanding the importance of air quality for those who reject the conclusions of over 97% of the world’s scientific community about global warming.
Here’s a question: how dangerous is it to operate a gasoline engine in a closed garage? What happens is that carbon monoxide (CO) emissions reduce the amount of oxygen to the brain, causing CO intoxication, and lack of reasoning. CO concentrations reach the Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) concentration of 1,200 parts per million (ppm) in only seven minutes when a small five horsepower gasoline engine is run in a 10,000 cubic foot room. Now consider the CO air impacts of a 135 horsepower automobile in a single car garage of 1,600 cubic feet.
If one can comprehend those scientifically demonstrable facts, here is a follow-up to this example. In 2014, some 260 million vehicles were registered in the U.S. This figure includes passenger cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, and other vehicles, but NOT jet aircraft which emit massive amounts of air pollution.
While calculating the total number of motor vehicles on the planet is an inexact science, the number is growing rapidly. The automotive trade journal, Ward’s Auto, has estimated that the vehicle count exceeded 1 billion sometime during 2010. Another calculation in July 2014 estimated that there were 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads, and that there would be 2 billion vehicles in service by 2035.
Our planetary garage is not big enough to prevent air pollution from killing people. This is why the Chinese government has announced plans to take up to 6 million vehicles that don’t meet emission standards off the roads by the end of the year, in a bid to mitigate that country’s air pollution crisis.
Petroleum powered vehicles are only one source of air pollution that we humans DO control. As a culture we are in deep denial about the irreparable damage we have visited upon our collective home. Earth cannot begin to reverse its slide into an uninhabitable climate without the help from those who live on it.
Breathe in, breathe out.
John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls, MA. He writes frequently about environmental issues and invites dialogue at email@example.com.