Honoring Climate Change Agreements Will Save Millions of Lives

Though much attention is focused on the long-term benefits of climate change mitigation, David Hunter and Francesca Dominici’s recent article published in the online news source STAT and featured on the HSPH web page underlines the fact that the short-term impacts of curbing air pollution are just as critical. 

The article cites the World Health Organization’s 2012 Report on Preventing Disease through Healthy Environments, noting that 1 in 8 of all global deaths (a total of 7 million deaths) were caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution, more than can be attributed to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.  

Asking why we tend to underestimate the short-term health benefits of climate change mitigation, the authors suggest that while measures have been taken to control emissions of large particles from the burning of fossil fuels, smaller particulate matter – under 2.5 microns in width, also pose a significant health concern, increasing risks of heart disease and stroke. 

Because the steps needed to mitigate climate change in the future are substantially the same as those needed to reduce the health burden of air pollution in the present, the authors conclude that the incoming US administration must take both factors into consideration in the development of new energy and environmental policies. According to Hunter and Dominici, “reducing air pollution is not only a matter of the future health of the planet, it is a matter of life and death in the here and now.”