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95% of World's Population Breathes Unsafe Air
The Health Effects Institute's (HEI) yearly State of Global Air report said that the outdoor air where 95 percent of humans live has particulate matter concentrations above the Word Health Organization's (WHO) air quality guidelines of 10 micrograms per square meter. Almost 60 percent live in areas where particulate matter exceeds even the WHO's less-strict transitional guidelines of 35 micrograms per square meter.
A map comparing particulate matter concentrations to WHO guidelines and interim targetsHEI
The report also looked at household air pollution caused by burning fuels in the home for cooking and heating and found that more than a third of the world's population is exposed to this type of air pollution as well, which can exceed WHO guidelines by a factor of 20.
The report found that the highest concentrations of air pollution, weighted for population, were in North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East. The next highest concentrations were in South Asia, especially Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan. The countries with the healthiest air were Australia, Brunei, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden and countries in the Pacific islands.
Overall, global air pollution has gone up by 18 percent between 2010 and 2016, the least year for which data was available. In China, which has made a concerted effort to combat pollution, levels have actually slightly declined in the six year period, though they are still above the WHO interim target at 56 micrograms per square meter. Bangladesh, Pakistan and India have seen the largest increase in air pollution during the same period..
The report comes as public health researchers are finding more and more health risks associated with long-term exposure to air pollution. Most recently, scientists found that exposure to air pollution in Mexico City increased the risk that the city's young people would develop Alzheimer's.
The HEI study found that air pollution caused 4.1 million deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections in 2016. China and India bore the brunt of the health impacts of air pollution, accounting for 51 percent of the world's air pollution related deaths that year.
The number of deaths per country due to air pollution in 2016.HEI
HEI Vice President Bob O'Keefe told The Guardian that the report showed a growing gap between the most polluted developing countries and the least polluted wealthier ones. That gap has increased from six-fold to 11-fold between 1990 and 2016.
However, O'Keefe said the report was not all doom and gloom. "There are reasons for optimism, though there is a long way to go. China seems to be now moving pretty aggressively, for instance in cutting coal and on stronger controls. India has really begun to step up on indoor air pollution, for instance through the provision of LPG [liquefied petroleum gas] as a cooking fuel, and through electrification," he told The Guardian.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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