Environment

Fossil fuel pollution caused 8.7 million deaths in 2018, study finds

Fossil fuel pollution caused 8...
A new study has found that that pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is causing many more deaths than previously thought
A new study has found that that pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is causing many more deaths than previously thought
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A new study has found that that pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is causing many more deaths than previously thought
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A new study has found that that pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is causing many more deaths than previously thought

While much of the criticism surrounding the burning of fossil fuels focuses on the long term impacts to the health of the planet, it can also have devastating short-term effects on the health of the human population. A new study led by Harvard scientists has shed new light on the extent of this problem, finding air pollution arising from fossil fuels to be responsible for more than eight million deaths around the world in 2018.

The study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London (UCL), and focuses on a type of air pollution called particulate matter (PM) 2.5, which refers to very fine dust particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in size.

These can arise from a variety of sources including forest fires, the tailpipes of cars and trucks, and the burning of fossil fuels. Due to their tiny size, they can penetrate the lungs and blood stream and, through chronic exposure, lead to health issues such as asthma, lung cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke.

“Burning fossil fuels produces fine particles laden with toxins that are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs,” says UCL’s Professor Eloise Marais, study co-author. “The risks of inhaling these particles, known as PM2.5, are well documented. Our study adds to the mounting evidence that air pollution from ongoing dependence on fossil fuels is detrimental to global health. We can’t in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives.”

Marais and her colleagues looked to build on previous assessments of PM2.5 pollution, which used satellite and surface observations to calculate concentrations across the globe but are unable to distinguish between PM2.5 arising from fossil fuels and those coming from other sources, such as wildfires and dust.

The scientists used an advanced atmospheric chemistry model developed at Harvard to tease out the finer details, combining this with emissions estimates from different sectors such as power generation, transport and industry. The team then used oxidant-aerosol chemistry simulations from NASA to calculate the concentrations of PM2.5 pollution from fossil fuels in different locations, with its system able to divide the entire globe into segments as small as just 50 x 60 km (31 x 37 mi).

Combining this high spatial resolution with data on where people live, the team was able to draw more detailed conclusions on the type of air people are inhaling on a daily basis. The team then developed a new risk assessment model based on updated research into the links between long-term exposure to PM2.5 pollution, even at low concentrations, and health outcomes and mortality.

In doing so, they found a far higher mortality rate resulting from long-term exposure to fossil fuel emissions. Previously, the most comprehensive study of death from all sources of outdoor particulate matter placed the number of yearly deaths at 4.2 million, including sources like dust and smoke from fires. The authors of the new study conclude that in 2018, fossil fuel emissions alone were responsible for 8.7 million deaths, which is almost one fifth, or 18 percent, of the global total.

“Often, when we discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion, it’s in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impact of the pollutants co-emitted with greenhouse gases,” says co-author Joel Schwartz, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Harvard. “We hope that by quantifying the health consequences of fossil fuel combustion, we can send a clear message to policymakers and stakeholders of the benefits of a transition to alternative energy sources.”

The research was published in the journal Environmental Research.

Source: Harvard University, University College London

14 comments
Jorg Schmid
Surely this has to be weighed against the overwhelming benefits to our health that cheap and abundant energy has made possible.
paul314
If a global pandemic were killing 8 million people a year, you'd think that all of human ingenuity would be harnessed to eliminate its causes as rapidly as possible. Oh, wait.
Catweazle
You would expect so wouldn't you, Jorg?
But I suspect you would be very disappointed!
Wavmakr
Very much a stretch......I agree with Jorg
BlueOak
I call bull$hite. “Harvard scientists” - blows the credibility of all that follows. Harvard long ago abandoned scientific impartiality to political correctness.

Simply reading the above summary of the “study”, it is a labored heap upon heap of unproven assumptions. Very little hard science.

As with so many forced models, prove it by back-applying the method to history and demonstrating its accuracy in a blind comparison to actual deaths.
bwana4swahili
"We can’t in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives"

Although I agree in principle with above I have to ask how many people would have died without the benefits of fossil fuels, i.e.: heating, air conditioning, transport of goods, etc. I suspect the number would be higher than those from the negative impact of fossil fuels!?
Chuck
It’s so much easier to rationalize the use of fossil fuels than to do the right thing and work towards the reduction of these energy sources. My home and car are powered by the sun alone. I haven’t purchased one gallon of gas or quart of oil in the past ten years. I don’t expect everyone to follow my lead but I’m happy to see so many have.
Bill S.
Let's immediately get rid of all forms of fossil fuels. Including those that create electricity to power all those heaters and air conditioners in our homes and EV's. Once we have done that, then its time to scrap every airliner ever made, every ship , every train, anything that transports food, medicines, water, and people. No more of that. Let's all go back to living like Fred and Wilma. They seemed perfectly happy to me.
WB1200
Funny they don't mention what countries are the worst offenders & where the majority have died but I can guess..
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The "smoke" in the picture is entirely water aerosol.