John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
But silver lining: This scourge isn't being worsened much by that other anthropogenic menace, climate change.
Here's the bad news: The mortality rate continues to be massive for human-caused air pollution, which each year is tied with more than 2.5 million premature deaths around the world.
Now for the silver lining, if you can call it that: At least this air-pollution scourge isn't being worsened much by that other anthropogenic menace, climate change.
While in future societies you might be at risk of drowning in escaped sewage water from raging megastorms, your chances of getting killed from climate-enhanced foul air is rather low, according to a recent study in Environmental Research Letters. (You could get still get laid low by regular ol' air pollution, obviously.) Using chemistry and climate models, scientists from the EPA, NASA, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and elsewhere studied human emissions and premature deaths, and found that "it cannot be clearly concluded that past climate change has increased air pollution mortality."
Expect to see this study cited all over climate-skeptic blogs, right next to factoids about how more CO2 in the atmosphere would be fantastic for plants. Here's are the death tolls, according to the researchers' calculations: Roughly 470,000 people perish annually from respiratory conditions brought on by anthropogenic ozone, and fine particulate matter leads to cardiopulmonary diseases and lung cancers that kill as many as 2.1 million each year. But if we were to estimate how many of these deaths were the direct result of climate change increasing air pollution, it would be only 1,500 for ozone and 2,200 for particle pollution.
Those are lower rates than ones cited in previous studies about the climate-pollution-mortality nexus, note the researchers. But it's not good news, however you look at it: the warming climate is still prompting more air-pollution deaths than if we lived in a globally stable atmosphere and, holy heck, more than 2 million people dying every year from bad air? That is seriously depressing news.
The full study is available here; below are a couple of maps the researchers made showing 1) premature mortality due to anthropogenic air pollution, and 2) premature mortality linked with climate change-derived air pollution. Look at how the world's nastiest pollution is gathered above developing regions like India, China and southeast Asia: